Medically Approved

Stress-free tips for baby bath time

4 minute read
Mother holding her baby

Bathing your infant can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re a new parent. Use these expert tips to make this time with your child fun and stress-free.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

You’re a new parent. And maybe giving your baby a bath makes you just a bit nervous. You’ve got so many questions. How often should you do it? How warm should the water be? What products are safe to use on your baby’s sensitive skin?

Relax. We’ve got doctor-approved tips on how to make tub time stress-free — and fun.

Get on a schedule

Bathe your baby with mild soap and shampoo no more than 3 times per week for the first year. That’s the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “Any more than that and it’s going to dry out the good baby oils that are on their skin,” says Daniel Ganjian, MD. He’s a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Feel free to give your baby daily water baths if you’d like. But only use products for the recommended 3 times per week.

If you’ve got a newborn, hold off on the bath. Wait until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off and the area has healed. This typically happens when they’re 1 to 2 weeks old. Stick with sponge baths until then.


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Choose a tub

There are many baby bathtubs on the market. These include:

  • Bucket style (to help your baby sit upright)
  • Slanted (to support babies not sitting up yet)
  • Inflatable
  • Folding
  • Spa style

Be aware that foldable and inflatable tubs may not be as sturdy as non-foldable ones. Foldable tubs may also trap or pinch your baby’s arms or legs. So you may want to stick with tubs that don’t fold or inflate.

The important thing is that the bathtub should allow you to comfortably keep a hand on your baby for the entire bath, says Maya Muñoz Mahmood, DO. She’s a pediatrician in Buckeye, Arizona, affiliated with Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Test the water temperature

The water in your faucet shouldn’t be higher than 120° F (48.8° C) to avoid burns, according to the AAP. Follow these steps when filling the bathtub:

  • Use lukewarm water.
  • Fill the tub only to 2 inches.
  • Dip your hand into the water.
  • Check the temperature on the inside of your wrist. It should feel warm, not hot.

Hold your baby at all times

Check that your towels and bath products are within reach before setting your baby in the water. You need to be able to keep at least 1 hand on your little one at all times while they’re in the tub. If you need to fetch something during bath time, bring your baby with you.

Important safety note: Never let go of your infant, even to grab a towel or answer the phone. Babies can drown in as little as 1 to 2 inches of water, according to the AAP.

Buy gentle products

Your baby’s skin is extra sensitive. So choose products specially made for babies.

Go a step further and check that the products are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. “The label should have those 2 terms on it,” Dr. Ganjian says. Don’t assume that simply because a product is organic or plant-based means it’s safe to use on your baby, he adds.

(P.S. Did you know there are great baby products you can use, too?)

Shampoo your baby’s hair

If your baby has hair, keep it clean with baby shampoo that’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Use a wet washcloth to massage the shampoo gently over their entire scalp. Be careful not to scrub or tug their skin.

Cup your hand across your child’s forehead while rinsing. This lets the suds run down the sides of their head. But don’t panic if shampoo makes its way into their eyes. Wet a washcloth with plain, lukewarm water and gently wipe each eye.

Make bath time fun

The more your baby enjoys tub time, the less they’ll fuss. That means less stress for you, too. “Don’t just focus on getting the job done,” Dr. Ganjian says. To make it fun:

  • Smile when you say the words “bath time.”
  • Bring baby toys into the tub.
  • Splash water while you bathe.
  • Giggle with your baby.

Turning bath time into a joyful event can also help you get to know your baby. Does your baby like scalp massages? What’s their facial expression when you say their name or sing to them? How do they react to getting their toes wet? The list goes on.

“Bathing is the perfect reminder for busy parents to pause, observe and enjoy their baby,” Dr. Mahmood says.

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Additional sources
Bathing tips: American Academy of Pediatrics (2020). “Bathing Your Baby”
Bath safety: American Academy of Pediatrics (2019). “Infant water safety: Protect your new baby from drowning”
Tubs: American Academy of Pediatrics (2015). “Parent plus: How to keep your baby safe during bath time”