Bathing your baby

Bathing your baby's a lovely way to spend time together and bond with them.

It’s natural to feel a bit worried if you’ve never done it before, though. 

Confidence will come

Some people find they’re so careful it takes ages to give a bath in the first few weeks. This is completely natural and you’ll get more confident as the weeks go on.

Don’t worry too much if your baby doesn’t like having a bath at first – some babies don’t. They should get used to it and start to enjoy it more after a few weeks.

Start a routine

Whether it’s a bath, a top and tail or a nappy change, try and keep to the same routine each time you do it. This helps your baby learn what’s happening and feel safe.

Talk to them at each step and tell them what you’re doing so they can pick up the routine.

Before bathing your baby

Before you give your baby a bath:

  • get everything ready and make sure the room's warm and free of draughts
  • get out a towel, a fresh nappy and some clean clothes
  • check the water's the right temperature and your baby's awake and ready
  • wash your hands

Filling the bath

When filling the bath:

  • put cold water in the bath first, then add hot - test the temperature with your elbow, it should feel comfortably warm
  • fill it to about 8 to 10 cm of water so they can move their arms and legs about

Putting baby in the bath

To put your baby in the bath safely:

  • lower them into the water on their back
  • support their head, shoulders and back with both hands

If you use your bath you’ll need to lean over your baby, which isn’t very comfortable. Usually it's easier to use a basin or a small baby bath on the floor. When they’re bigger and you’re feeling more confident, you could try a slightly deeper bath.

Bathing your baby

Baby at bathtime
When bathing your baby keep one hand under their head and shoulders to support them Public Health Scotland

To bath your baby:

  • keep one hand under their head and shoulders to support them
  • use your free hand to wet their body - if they only have a little hair, rinse their head by pouring some water over it with your hand
  • rub over the skin gently with a clean cloth

Dry your baby in a large, soft warm towel, put on their nappy and dress them.

Using soaps and shampoos

Only use plain water for newborn babies.

You can start using unperfumed baby bath from about 4 to 6 weeks, but be careful to only use a little so you don’t damage your baby’s skin.

Babies with longer hair may need a drop of mild shampoo on wet hair, lathered and rinsed off.

Washing between the folds

Some babies have folds of skin, especially round their neck, thighs and wrists. Milk can get trapped there which can irritate the skin, making it sore.

Clean inside these folds gently.

Washing the birth stump

The stump of the umbilical cord usually falls off by itself after around 10 days, leaving a perfect tummy button. Don't worry if it takes a little longer or seems a bit smelly. Let the water wash gently around it to remove any discharge.

Topping and tailing your baby

You don’t have to bath your baby every day – instead you can give them a quick top and tail.

Topping and tailing is a quick alternative to a bath and you can do it once or twice a day.

What you'll need

To top and tail your baby you'll need:

  • cotton wool or two soft clean cloths
  • a bowl of warm water
  • a fresh nappy
  • clean clothes if you need them
  • a bin, bag or bucket for waste

How to top and tail your baby

To top and tail your baby:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Undress your baby on their back and leave the nappy on - if they’re very young they may be more comfortable if you wrap them in a towel to keep warm
  3. Wipe their face, neck and ears with cotton wool or a soft cloth dipped in warm water and dry them with cotton wool, a cloth or a soft towel
  4. Wipe their underarms and dry them
  5. Take the nappy off and, if they’re a very new baby, wash off any discharge that’s come from the stump of the umbilical cord
  6. Wash their genitals and bottom – for girls, wipe with a clean wet cloth or cotton wool from front to back
  7. Pat the skin dry
  8. Put on a fresh nappy and dress them

Be gentle when cleaning your baby's genital area - never try to pull back a baby boy’s foreskin.

Your baby's finger and toenails

Keep fingernails and toenails neat and trimmed, as your baby might scratch the skin on their face.

Use special baby nail scissors with rounded edges and don’t cut too far down.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap's a common scalp condition in babies. It shows up as scaly, greasy patches on their scalp, a bit like bad dandruff.

It’s nothing to worry about – in fact it’s a sign that your baby’s skin is growing.

Try rubbing baby oil or vegetable oil into your baby’s scalp to loosen the scales, and then rinse it off. If the scalp looks red or seems infected, get advice from your midwife, health visitor, family nurse or pharmacist.

Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.

Last updated:
08 April 2022