How Do I Give My Premature Baby a Bath?

Sophie, born 23 days early, taking a bath at home.
Sophie, born 23 days early, taking a bath at home.. Image courtesy Shawn Fowler

Question: How Do I Give My Premature Baby a Bath?

When my baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the nurses always bathed her. Now that we're home, it's my turn to give my baby a bath. What is the best way to bathe my preemie?

Answer: Giving your baby a bath is one of the joys of parenting. When your baby is born early, many parenting tasks must be shared with NICU staff. Helping with bath time in the NICU is a great way to bond with your baby and can help prepare you to take your baby home.

If you didn't get many chances to give your baby a bath in the NICU, don't worry! You'll learn quickly and will soon feel like a professional.

Should I Give My Baby a Sponge Bath or a Tub Bath?

There are a few things to consider as you're deciding whether to give your baby a sponge bath or a tub bath. First, look at the umbilical cord. Is it still attached? Is there any oozing or bleeding from the site? If yes, then give a sponge bath. Next, is your baby circumcised? If he has a circumcision that's still healing, then give a sponge bath.

If your baby's cord and circumcision are healed nicely, then the choice is yours. Babies are slippery when wet, so some parents prefer to give sponge baths until they feel more confident. However, most babies seem to prefer a tub bath, and the will cry less and enjoy bath time more in a tub.

How Often Should I Give My Baby a Bath?

Babies, especially preemies, have sensitive skin that gets dry very quickly.

Giving your baby a bath every day can cause dry skin, so bathe your baby every two to four days. Babies who sweat a lot or spit up frequently will need to be bathed more frequently, while babies who stay mostly clean can go longer between baths.

What Equipment Do I Need for Bathtime?

To give your premature baby a bath, you will need:

  • A thermometer
  • Clean clothes, a hat, and a diaper
  • A towel
  • Two washcloths
  • Baby soap, shampoo
  • A baby bathtub or bowl of water
  • For sponge baths, an extra towel or puppy pad

What Are the Steps to Bathing a Baby?

The first step to bathing your baby is to gather all of your supplies. You can't walk away once you put your baby in the bathtub, so make sure you have everything you need.

After you gather your supplies, take your baby's temperature. A normal axillary (under the arm) temperature is between 97.5 and 99.3° F. Preemies get cold easily, so make sure your baby's temperature is in the normal range before bath time and give your baby a bath in a warm room.

Fill the bathtub or bowl with lukewarm water (test it with your wrist or elbow). Lay down a towel or puppy pad if you're going to give your baby a sponge bath. If you're giving a tub bath, put your baby in the bathtub, supporting her neck and shoulders.

Wash your baby in the following order:

  1. Wash the face: Use a washcloth to wash from the inner corner of the eye to the outer corner, then use a different part of the washcloth to wash the other eye. Wash the rest of the face. Do not use soap on the face.
  1. Wash the neck and ears: Milk and dirt tend to get trapped in a baby's neck folds and behind the ears, so use soap and wash these parts next.
  2. Wash the body: Wash your baby's arms, hands, trunk, back, and legs.
  3. Wash the bottom: Wash your baby's bottom next, then set that washcloth aside. If you are giving a sponge bath, wrap or cover your baby with a dry towel before you wash her hair.
  4. Wash the hair: Because heat escapes so quickly from a baby's head, wash your baby's hair last. Use a head-to-toe baby wash or a shampoo designed for babies.
  5. Dry and dress your baby: After bath time, dry your baby thoroughly and dress her in clean, dry clothes. Put a hat on your baby to minimize heat loss.

Congratulations! Bath time is finished. Snuggle your baby and offer a feeding, then lay her down to sleep. Babies are often sleepy after a bath, and may eat less or sleep better after a bath than at other times.


Sutter Health. "Temperature/Fever" Accessed Oct. 4, 2011 from

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