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Sponge Bathing Your Baby


A sponge bath is when you bathe your baby without putting him in a tub. During a sponge bath, you lay your baby on a towel and clean him with a wet washcloth. You should sponge bathe your baby no more than 2 to 3 times each week. A sponge bath should take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete.


Your baby's skin:

  • Your baby's skin is sensitive and fragile. Your baby's primary healthcare provider (PHP) may tell you to wash him with warm water only during the first month after birth. If you do use soap, use only gentle baby soap on areas that are noticeably dirty, such as his bottom. The soap you use on your baby should not have any preservatives, alcohol, or perfumes in it. Ask your baby's PHP what type of soap is best. Wash your baby's skin gently. Do not rub.

  • If your baby was premature, his skin may be thinner and more sensitive than other babies. Your premature baby may not need a sponge bath as often because his skin may dry out faster. Soap may irritate your premature baby's skin.

How to give a sponge bath:

  • Prepare an area: Clean the surface you plan to give the bath on and the bath supplies. Make sure you have everything you need within easy reach. This includes warm water, baby soap or shampoo, a soft washcloth, cotton balls or pads, and a towel. Always test the water temperature before bathing your baby. Drip some water onto your wrist or inner arm. The water should feel warm, not hot, on your skin. If you have a bath thermometer, the water temperature should be 98.6°F to 103.9°F (37°C to 39.9°C).

  • Keep the room warm: The room should be warm and free of drafts. Close the door and windows and turn off fans to prevent drafts.

  • Wash your hands: Do this before you give your baby a sponge bath to help prevent the spread of germs.

  • Place a towel on a flat surface: Place your baby on the towel. Never leave your baby alone during a sponge bath, not even for a few minutes. If you must leave the room, wrap your baby in a towel and take him with you.

  • Start by washing your baby's face and head: Keep your baby wrapped in a blanket while you wash his face and head. Use a wet washcloth to wash behind and around your baby's ears. Clean his neck, making sure to wash under the skin folds. Gently clean his eyelids with a damp cotton ball or pad. Wash your baby's head and hair 1 to 2 times a week with a gentle shampoo. Rinse his head with a wet washcloth to get rid of all the shampoo. Pat your baby's face and head dry before continuing on with the bath.

  • Wash the rest of your baby's body: Start by washing his chest. Clean between his fingers and toes. Wash your baby's genitals and bottom last.

  • Rinse the soap off and dry your baby: Soap left on your baby's skin can be irritating, so be sure to rinse off all of the soap. You can rinse your baby by squeezing water onto his skin. Pat him dry, and wrap him in a blanket. Do not rub his skin dry. Use gentle baby lotion to keep his skin moist. Dress your baby as soon as he is dry.

Umbilical cord care:

  • Some caregivers suggest sponge bathing your baby until his umbilical cord stump falls off. Other caregivers say you can bathe your baby in the tub. Ask your baby's PHP if you should sponge bathe or tub bathe your baby while his umbilical cord is still attached.

  • Wash the umbilical cord stump if it gets dirty with urine or bowel movement. Clean it with a cotton ball or cotton pad that is wet with warm water. Gently pat the stump dry with a clean, soft towel. Do not pull on the umbilical cord stump. Fold the front of the diaper below the stump so air can reach the stump and help it dry out faster. Also, choose clean, loose-fitting clothes for your baby to wear. Ask your baby's PHP for more information about cord care.

Bathe after a circumcision:

You can wash your baby's penis 3 to 4 days after the circumcision. Drip warm water gently over his penis to clean it. Put petroleum jelly inside his diaper so it will not stick to his penis while it heals. If a plastic circumcision device was used, do not use petroleum jelly. Ask your baby's PHP for more information.

Risks of sponge bathing:

  • Your baby may get cold quickly during a sponge bath. Your baby may cry during the sponge bath. You can damage his skin if you scrub it or rub it dry. If you use soap and do not rinse it off completely, it can dry and irritate your baby's skin.

  • Even with regular diaper changes, your baby may have dried urine or bowel movement in his skin folds. If he is not sponge bathed to remove the dried urine or bowel movement, he may get a rash. The rash can become infected if it is not treated properly.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.