Newborn Skin Hygiene: what you need to know

I grew up in a home where you bathe and wash your hair every single day no matter what. I struggled with overly dry skin and an overabundance of oil in my hair for my entire childhood. As an adult, I thought everyone followed the same basic hygiene rules that had governed my life. However, I quickly learned that was untrue. I had hairstylists telling me to cut way back on washing my hair. I had doctors tell me that I didn’t have Eczema, I was stripping all my natural oils away by bathing every day. I made some small adjustments to my hygiene routine, and like magic had fuller hair, nicer skin, and no dry patches on my body. What about newborn skin hygiene and dryness?

When I started working with babies as a nanny, I didn’t think to make these adjustments to their hygiene and quickly noticed that something was wrong. It didn’t make sense that all the babies under my care suddenly had an Eczema diagnosis or cradle cap. So, I decided to do some troubleshooting. I, together with the parents, looked at mom’s diet, baby’s diet, laundry detergent, environmental factors, and more to figure out why the baby was having these skin issues. Nothing was turning up, and changing these things made little to no difference at all in every baby I was caring for. For some babies that my peers have cared for, changing these things made a huge difference, but that was not my experience.

At the time, I was a very young adult with very little educational background in newborn care. I loved babies, I thought that was all I needed, and I loved my work as a nanny. As I took developmental courses through college, I started to realize that something else was missing; more focused knowledge of just newborns. I signed up for a Newborn Care Specialist training and that first day of training knew exactly what we were doing that was causing the baby's skin issues. It was covered under basic hygiene for newborns, and was one of many “aha” moments in my Newborn Care Specialist career.

We were bathing baby... every. single. night.

Just like myself, the baby didn’t need all those good oils stripped from their skin so frequently. Even more so, a newborn’s skin is so delicate, too much washing can cause even more problems than cradle cap and Eczema, it can cause rashes that become infected and lead to serious health complications. Pediatricians in the US recommend bathing your newborn 1-2 times per week, and the baby's umbilical cord should not be submerged in water until it falls off, instead give your newborn a sponge bath. Now, as an Elite NCS™ Newborn Care Specialist, I teach my clients how to give their newborns a bath after the umbilical cord has fallen off. 

First and foremost, when it comes to bathtime, make sure you are prepared. There is nothing worse (or cuter!) than a wiggly wet slippery newborn while you struggle to find a towel. Get everything from start to finish out and ready so you can go through the process seamlessly without stress for you or your baby. Here is my must-have list: 

  • two towels (if you only use one, the baby will likely have an accident on it)
  • clean diaper and clothes (so baby doesn’t get chilled after bath)
  • 2 washcloths
  • mild baby soap
  • a tub of warm water (your sink works!)

Once you have the basics ready, you are set to go. Bathtime is a great way for you to bond with your newborn. Bathtime is a top-down experience. Start the bath by washing their face with just warm water and a washcloth. Wipe the eyes from the inside to the outside, using a clean part of the washcloth for each eye, you can also use two cotton balls for this step. Once your baby’s face is clean, we move onto washing their hair/head. Soak a washcloth with warm water, then gently squeeze the water over the crown of the head until their entire head is wet. Gently lather soap onto the baby’s head, don’t be afraid to clean their soft spots, as that is a place that oils like to build up and can contribute to cradle cap. Rinse your baby’s head thoroughly and use the dry washcloth to pat their head dry so the baby doesn’t become chilled. Moving onto the body, continue going from the top down: ensure you get under the armpits, in between the fingers, and behind the knees as these are places that lint likes to gather. Rinse the body really well and then move onto the diaper area. Make sure you wash all creases and folds thoroughly, especially on a baby girl’s genitals, as bodily fluids, diaper creams, and diaper lint all like to gather inside the creases. Rinse the area thoroughly with warm water, and now you have a fresh, clean baby! Gather baby into the dry towel to gently pat dry, and baby is ready for a clean diaper and change of clothes.

Things have definitely changed since I was a child when it comes to what we know about newborn skin. We all love the smell of a clean baby, but luckily newborns don’t tend to get too messy, so stick to bathing only once to twice a week, bathe from the top-down, use mild baby soap, and use bath time as a time to bond with your newborn.

Jessica White
Elite NCS™ and Postpartum Doula
Additional Articles by Jessica:

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