A gentle sponging is all the bathing a newborn needs. She’ll be ready for her first real bath once the umbilical stump falls off and the area has healed — after about two weeks. At that point, you’ll have gotten to know each other a bit, and you’ll be more comfortable and confident about handling her in the water and in general.
Since first baths can be a little stressful, it’s best to start when your baby’s calm. Choose a time when you’re both relaxed and less likely to be interrupted. It’s nice when she is awake and alert, so you can share the experience. If she’s already fussy or crying, wait until she settles.
First, assemble the accessories you’ll need: a soft washcloth, towels, and mild baby soap. An extra pair of hands can help, too, because you’ll need to keep one hand in contact with your baby from start to finish. Set up a safe, secure place for the little plastic bathing tub (one that slopes upward to elevate your baby’s head may be easier to use), where you’ll have room for your supplies. You might try the kitchen table or the changing table.
Fill the tub with just enough water for your baby to float in but not be submerged, about 2 inches. (A baby can drown even in a few inches of water, so stay with her throughout.) Placing a towel or sponge pad on the bottom of the baby tub will help keep her from slipping. Don’t undress her until everything is ready to go, so that she stays warm.
Test the water temperature with your elbow (it should be warm, not hot), and then slowly and gently place your baby in the water tummy up. She may startle and cry at first contact, but a well-heated room, a gentle touch, and your quiet, reassuring voice can soothe her. In the beginning, baths should be as short as possible to keep your baby comfortable. But if she doesn’t relax after the first few attempts, there’s no need to continue. Sponge baths will do until she’s ready—you can try again in a week or two.
Later, when she’s learned to enjoy them, a bath can be a great way to help her relax when she’s riled up and needs help soothing herself. Watch her closely and she’ll tell you with her facial expressions and body movements what she thinks. As she grows (when she’s old enough to sit she can use a regular bathtub, but she’ll still need the constant attention of an adult), baths will become an opportunity for restfulness, play, and together time with you.