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Baby Basics: Caring for a Newborn

Everything about a baby can be baffling — even a simple bath. Here are tips for diapering and bathing.

crying baby on mom's shoulder

Once your baby is born, you'll have a brand-new little person to take care of. Babies may be small, but they have big needs. It’s normal to feel a little anxious about all the things that need to be done to care for a baby.

But relax! Just take your time and enjoy getting to know your baby. Here are tips on changing your newborn’s diaper and giving your sweet baby a bath.

How to change a diaper

  • Diapers. Most newborns will go through about 10 diapers a day.
  • Washcloths or baby wipes. Use wipes sparingly — only for cleaning stool. Choose alcohol-free wipes. This will tend to reduce the risk of irritating your baby’s skin. You may wish to use cotton balls dipped in warm water if your baby has sensitive skin.
  • Ointment or cream if your baby has diaper rash.

Changing a diaper

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Place your baby on a changing table or on a protective pad on a firm, flat surface like a bed or the floor. Caution: Wherever you place your baby, never leave your baby alone.
  3. Take off the dirty diaper. If your baby has pooped, use a clean part of the diaper to wipe off as much stool as possible.
  4. Set the soiled diaper as far from your baby as possible. Watch for kicking feet or flailing arms.
  5. Use cotton balls or a washcloth dipped in warm water or baby wipes to clean baby’s diaper area. Always wipe front to back on girls. Be especially careful to clean in the creases and folds. Be gentle in all of your actions and be sure that all areas, especially creases and folds, are dry.
  6. Apply ointment if your baby has a diaper rash as recommended by your baby’s doctor.
  7. Put on the new diaper (follow steps 8-10):
  8. Open up the disposable diaper. If there are pictures on the diaper, they will be facing down. Slide the diaper tab-end first under your baby’s bottom (or set your baby on it). Pull the front up and make sure the diaper is centered. Fasten with the tabs. Check that there are no gaps and that the fringe around the legs isn’t caught in the elastic.
  9. Cloth diaper technique varies by style. All-in-ones and many wraps work the same way as disposables. More traditional cloth diapers require pins or other fasteners, plus a waterproof cover.
  10. Make sure that a boy’s penis is pointing down when you close the diaper.
  11. Toss the used diaper or liner into the garbage or a diaper pail.
  12. Wash your hands again.

How to give a baby a bath

Unlike diapering, which you’ll do so often that you could do it in your sleep, bathing can happen just two or three times a week for the first year. More frequent baths could dry out your baby’s skin.

You’ll need to give your baby sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump falls off. It’s important to keep that umbilical area dry. If you have a circumcised boy, you may also need to keep his penis dry until it’s healed.

You might want to use a sink, baby tub or basin. For safety, use only a few inches of water to keep your baby’s head well above the surface. Some babies love the water; others don’t. Remember, babies are often very slippery when wet so be prepared!

IMPORTANT: Never leave a child or infant alone around water!


Make sure the room is warm and you have all the supplies handy before you undress your baby.

  • Mild baby soap
  • Washcloths
  • Towels (hooded baby towels keep your baby’s wet head warm)
  • Baby shampoo
  • Cup for rinsing

Giving a sponge bath

  1. Prepare a basin or bowl of warm water before you undress your baby. Test it with your elbow or wrist to make sure the water isn’t too hot or cold. Lay baby on a padded surface that is flat and comfortable. If the baby is on a surface above the floor, keep one hand on him at all times to prevent falls.
  2. Keep your baby wrapped in a towel, and expose only the parts of his body you are washing.
  3. First, use a dampened washcloth without soap to wash his face, so you don't get soap in his eyes or mouth. Then, using soap, wash the rest of his body, and finally, the diaper area. Key places to wash: the neck, armpits, behind the ears and anywhere else there are skin folds or creases. If you have a girl, clean her genital area carefully, too.
  4. Rinse your baby’s skin with clean water.

Caution: Never leave your baby alone on a table or in the bath.

Giving a baby tub or sink bath

  1. Fill the tub with two inches of water that feels warm, not hot, to the inside of your wrist or elbow.
  2. Undress your baby. Support her head with one hand and put the other under her bottom. Lower her into the tub, feet first.
  3. Pour warm water over her body often to keep her warm.
  4. First, use plain water to wash her face. Wash the rest of her body from the top down, using mild soap. Wash the diaper area last.
  5. Use shampoo to wash her hair once or twice a week. Gently massage her entire scalp. Take care when rinsing to keep soapy water out of her eyes. Use a washcloth dipped in plain water to wash any suds out of her eyes.
  6. When the bath is finished, wrap her in a towel and pat her dry.

Caution: Never leave your baby alone in the bath.

By Emily A. King, Contributing Writer

American Academy of Pediatrics. Bathing your newborn. Accessed: July 14, 2016.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Changing diapers. Accessed: July 14, 2016.
March of Dimes. Giving your baby a bath. Accessed: July 14, 2016. Baby basics: Diapering your baby. Accessed: July 14, 2016.

Last Updated: July 15, 2016