Hygiene for Newborns: Tips for First-Time Parents

There’s a lot more involved with keeping your newborn baby clean than just giving her a bath. Their tiny fingernails and toenails need to be trimmed, their mouths need to be cleaned, their healing belly buttons need to be cared for, and so much more!

The idea of washing a baby may have seemed like a simple idea at first, but cleaning a newborn involves special considerations to ensure that they aren’t harmed. So, what types of considerations need to be made? Here are some key hygiene tips for a newborn that first-time parents, in particular, will find very helpful.

Bath Time

Before I had my first child, I had no idea that giving a newborn a bath was a lot different than giving a baby who is a few months old a bath. When my little guy arrived, I quickly learned that you don’t really give a newborn a bath in the sense that you don’t submerge a newborn in water. Newborns cannot be submerged in water until their umbilical stump completely heals. Until the stump comes off, you’re going to give your newborn a sponge bath – and your newborn is only going to need a sponge bath no more than three times a week, otherwise her sensitive skin can dry out.

To give your newborn a sponge bath, make sure that you gather all of the supplies that are needed, including:

- A large towel

- A baby towel

- Two washcloths

- Baby wash

- A basin of warm water

- Lotion

- Powder

- A diaper

- A change of clothing

On a stable surface, lay out the large towel and place your newborn on top of it. Undress your little one, but leave the diaper on (believe me; accidents will happen if you don’t.) Wrap the large towel around her to keep her warm. Start cleaning from her head and work your way down. Dip the washcloth in the basin of water, ring it out and gently clean her face (do not use soap on her face!) Once her face is clean, you can apply soap to the washcloth and gently run it over her head to wash her hair. Dip the second washcloth in the water and use it to rinse the soap out of her hair. Once her hair is clean, you can work your way down, gently wiping her body with the soapy washcloth and rinsing her with the damp washcloth.

Save the diaper area for last. Once you reach this part, remove the soiled diaper and use the non-soapy washcloth to cleanse her genitals. Once clean, pat dry, apply some powder and put on a fresh diaper. Apply lotion on her skin and then dress her and voila! – you’ve just given your newborn a bath!

How to make the most out of bath time?

Bath time is a great opportunity for you and your newborn to bond. During bath time, make the most of your bonding experience by gazing into your baby’s eyes. Sing her songs. Give her little tickles. Kiss her little toes and hands. Bath time will quickly become a favorite time of day for both you and your baby. 

Caring for the Umbilical Cord Stump

When your baby is born, the umbilical cord that nourished him while he was in your womb will be cut and clamped. A portion of the umbilical cord – the umbilical stump – will remain attached to your little one’s navel. The stump will eventually fall off, but it can take as long as 3 weeks for this to happen. Until it does fall off, you are going to have to care for it to ensure it doesn’t tear off before it is ready to come off on its own.

To care for the stump, keeping it clean and dry is vital. Do not submerge your baby in water. Do not get the stump wet when you are giving him a sponge bath. When diapering baby, make sure to fold down the diaper so that it doesn’t sit on the stump. Until the umbilical stump falls off, dress your little one in loose fitting clothing – a T-shirt and a diaper in warm weather and a gown and a diaper in cold weather.

Should you apply alcohol to the umbilical stump?

The American Academy of Pediatrics used to suggest cleaning the stump with an alcohol swab on a daily basis; however, it has been found that leaving the cord untreated will allow it to heal faster.

Caring for Boy Genitals

If you have a boy, you are going to have to decide whether or not you want to have him circumcised. A circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin that covers the head of the penis. If you decide to have your boy circumcised, the area is going to require special care until it heals. To care for the circumcision, heed the following advice:

- Gently wash the penis with a washcloth dipped in warm water after every diaper change. Do not use soap. Pat the area dry.

- Place petroleum jelly on his penis, as it will prevent the scab from sticking to the diaper.

- Loosely fasten the diaper so that there is less pressure applied on the healing penis.

- Do not remove any film that may form; it will go away on its own.

If you decide not to circumcise your son, caring for his penis is relatively straightforward; simply wash the penis after each diaper change with soapy water or a baby wipe. Do not attempt to pull his foreskin back, as it will not retract until he is about 3 to 5 years old.

Can you use baby wipes on a circumcised penis?

No! Do not use baby wipes to clean a circumcised penis until it fully heals. Doing so could not only cause irritation, but it could also hurt your baby. 

Caring for Girl Genitals

A little girl’s genitals obviously require different care than a boy’s. Your newborn girl’s genital area may appear swollen and red when she is first born. This is normal and the swelling and redness will go away soon enough.

To clean her genitals, use a non-soapy, wet washcloth to gently wipe the area at each diaper change. Gently spread her lips apart and wipe the area. If you see discharge that is clear, white or even bloody, don’t be alarmed. This is completely normal and it will go away. While you can wipe it away, you don’t have to scrub it all away. Always make sure you wipe from front to back.

What to do if the labia fuse together?

Your newborn girl’s labia can actually fuse together. If this happens, don’t try to force them apart; instead, contact your pediatrician who will offer you advice and a solution. 

Trimming the Nails

You will quickly discover that your newborn’s nails not only grow fast, but they are extremely sharp. Sharp nails can hurt both your baby and you! To prevent injury, you are going to need to clip both the fingernails and toe nails. While it will probably seem scary at first, trimming your newborn’s nails isn’t actually all that hard.

To trim the nails, use a pair of sharp infant nail cutting scissors or a baby nail clipper. When clipping the nails, hold his fingertip pad down and away from the nail. Clip the nail following the natural curve of his fingernail. Take caution so that you don’t cut the nail too short or too quick. A baby’s toenails slower than the fingernails, so you won’t have to clip them as frequently.

Is there a way to make clipping easier?

Sure! You can try to clip your baby’s nails while he is sleeping. This can help you avoid squirming and make it easier for both you and your baby. 

Cleaning the Mouth

Your newborn won’t have teeth when she is born, but that doesn’t mean that her mouth doesn’t need to be cleaned. Just like your mouth, germs collect in your newborn’s mouth and breast milk or formula can lead to sour smelling breath.

To clean your newborn’s mouth, all you need is a washcloth and some lukewarm water. Simply dip the washcloth in the water, open your baby’s mouth and use the cloth to wipe her gums an if possible, her tongue, down. Use gentle pressure and don’t force it. You don’t want to hurt her. Cleaning your newborn’s mouth will keep her gums healthy and will provide her teeth with a healthy and strong surface to grow in on.

Should you use a toothbrush?

No, don’t use a toothbrush to clean your newborn’s mouth. A toothbrush can irritate her gums. There is also the potential for her to choke on the toothbrush. Stick to a washcloth until her teeth start coming in. 

Cleaning the Ears

Earwax buildup in your little one’s ears is not only unsightly, but it can also impair his hearing. In order to keep your baby’s ears clean, you’re going to want to wipe away that earwax; however, you do need to use caution. Do not put anything in your baby’s ear; including a cotton swab. Doing so can rupture the ear drum, which is as thin as a tissue.

To clean out your little one’s ears, use a cotton swab or a damp washcloth (which is even better than a cotton swab) to wipe away any wax that sits on the outer ear. If you see an excess buildup of wax, do not attempt to clean it yourself. Instead, take your little one to the pediatrician to have it assessed. The pediatrician will be able to properly clean the ears if needed.

Should you worry about earwax?

If your baby seems to be producing excessive earwax, you may be concerned that there is something wrong. When in doubt, head to the pediatrician, as with anything you may be concerned about regarding your baby. Far better to be safe than sorry. 

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