Baby's sponge bath can be enjoyable ritual for mom or dad

Q: I'm about to become a new mom. I've heard it's best to give my newborn son a sponge bath, but I've never done this before. Can you give me some guidance?

A: Don't worry; giving the baby a sponge bath is easy, even enjoyable, with experience. Give your baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls off.

When the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut. A small stump of cord remains where the baby's belly button is. That stump of cord usually falls off in the first week or two after the baby is born.

Once the cord falls off, you can give your baby a tub bath.

You can give your baby a sponge bath on a changing table, on the counter next to the sink, in a bassinet or even on your lap.

My mother told me when I was very young that she sat on the edge of the bathtub when she sponged me. That way the water and soap from the sponge would fall into the tub. She reassured me that it was just the water and soap that went down the drain — I was too big. Whew!

Before you begin, gather all the necessary supplies: a soft washcloth or sponge, cotton balls, gentle soap, baby shampoo, warm (but not hot) water and a dry towel. Never leave your baby unattended, even for a moment, on any raised surface.

First clean his ears, eyes and nose with a cotton ball that has been dipped in warm water without any soap and wrung out.

Soap is NOT recommended on the face because it can irritate your baby's eyes and nose. Wipe around the eyes, but do not wipe across them. Clean your baby's outer ears, but do not clean inside the ears.

If your baby seems cold, wrap him in a towel and only uncover the body parts you are washing.

Use a “tear-free” baby shampoo or mild soap to wash your baby's scalp and hair. Support his head with one hand while using the other to wash the area gently. Wipe off the suds with a damp cloth. Then cover the ear canal and rinse carefully with a small amount of water. Do not pour any water over your baby's face.

Wipe the mouth, chin and folds of his neck with a wet washcloth. Wipe his chest, arms and hands, and then pat dry.

Avoid wetting the umbilical cord area. If the area does get wet, gently dab it dry.

Turn your baby on his side or tummy to wash his back. Wipe the legs and feet, and don't forget to dry behind the knees and between the toes.

Save the diaper area for last. Remove the diaper and wash the genitals and bottom. (Girls should always be wiped front to back.) Dry well before putting on a fresh diaper.

Some pediatricians recommend bathing your baby only once or twice a week. But many parents make nightly baths part of their bedtime ritual, because it's fun — for them and the baby.

• Dr. Anthony Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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