Bath time might be part of your nightly ritual, but doctors actually don't recommend daily baths for babies. Excess exposure to water can zap their skin of moisture and worsen conditions like eczema. Then again, not bathing your baby often enough can also aggravate eczema, plus lead to other infections.
"It's a delicate balance," says Scott Grant, M.D., MPH, FAAP, at Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital of Michigan. But bathing itself is probably not the entire problem: "The use of bath products, including lotions that contain dyes or fragrances, can react with babies' skin to make eczema worse even if there isn't a 'bath,'" says Dr. Grant.
So how often should you bathe a newborn? Read on for the guidelines.
When to Bathe a Newborn for the First Time
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), newborn babies should get their first bath about 24 hours after birth. The delay might decrease the risk of hypothermia and hypoglycemia, contribute to breastfeeding success, and moisturize the skin. Stick with sponge baths until after their umbilical cord stump falls off—usually within a couple weeks of birth. You must also rely on sponge baths until circumcision incisions heal.
How Frequently to Bathe Newborns
The AAP recommends bathing your infant three times a week until their first birthday. "Obviously there are unique messes that babies can find themselves in as they get older and more mobile that may require an extra bath from time to time," says Dr. Grant. "But in general, this rule is sufficient as long as the diaper area is cleaned appropriately at each diaper change."
Cleaning Your Baby Between Baths
Just as you'd still apply deodorant when forgoing your own shower, certain baby parts need attention daily whether they're getting a full-on bath or not.
"Be sure that you're cleaning the diaper area well, especially following stool or 'poopy' diapers, in between skin folds," Dr. Grant advises. For baby boys, gently retract the foreskin to clean the area underneath. For girls, the area around the vagina has similar folds that should be cleaned well.
Don't skimp on the lotion, either. "Daily application can help prevent eczema outbreaks, so this might be a useful replacement for bathtime in the bedtime routine," says Dr. Grant. "This is especially important for babies who have already shown signs of eczema or have siblings or parents with eczema."
The Bottom Line
To recap, bathing your baby no more than three times a week is perfectly healthy, given that you wipe the diaper area thoroughly at each changing and apply moisturizer daily.