Keeping your new baby clean

by | Sep 17, 2020

Caring for a newborn can be a little scary, but with these top tips from Durban-based midwife Cheryl Rowe, who runs Cheryl’s Gentle Births, you’ll be feeling confident in no time.

Bath Time Bliss

Getting started
Cheryl Rowe says, “For many of my moms, the first few weeks with a newborn are overwhelming. A big fear they often have is that their baby will be slippery in the bath, and they therefore might drop them. Add to this the fact that a new baby doesn’t get very dirty – after all they are mostly just sleeping and feeding – I often recommend that they simply ‘top and tail’ their baby. This is where you use a flannel cloth and warm water to wipe down the area under the nappy, and under the chin where milk often dribbles during feeds.”

How often?
“I am not fixated on lots of bathing in the first few weeks, as this is more of a settling in time for mom and baby. And babies don’t sweat much, so baths aren’t needed daily,” says Rowe. In the first few months, two to three baths a week should be sufficient for your baby. When she is more active and is crawling and getting messy, a daily bath time can be introduced.

How much water?
When you feel ready to take the plunge and put your baby in a bath, five to eight centimetres of water is more than deep enough. Remember, a child can drown in a few centimetres of water, so always support her with your hands and never ever leave her alone in water, even for a few seconds.

How hot?
Babies like tepid water, says Cheryl – 37 °C is the ideal temperature. You can use a bath thermometer to test this, or use the sensitive inside of your wrist to check the water is a comfortable temperature. Never fill the bath while baby is in it. Run the bath, get the temperature right and switch off the taps before you put your baby in the bath. This way there won’t be any surprises when really hot or cold water suddenly starts pouring into the bath.

What to use?
“A baby’s skin is so delicate in the first few weeks and months that you don’t need to use a soap,” advises Rowe. When you think it’s time to start using soap, buy an organic mild baby soap or a liquid baby wash and test it on a small area of her skin first, to ensure she does not have a reaction to it. Don’t lather up the soap or let her sit in the soapy water for more than five minutes, as her skin is sensitive and you do not want to dry it out.

How long?
Keep bath time short – five minutes should be long enough.

What next?
Carefully take baby out of the bath and gently pat her dry with a towel – including in all the creases between her delicious rolls – before you rub a small amount of moisturiser (baby oil or lotion, whichever you prefer) all over her body. “It is vital to moisturise your baby after using soap, as the soap is bound to have a drying effect on her skin, especially in our climate,” says Rowe. If she suffers from nappy rash, let her bottom have some breathing time before putting a new nappy on.

Creating a routine
Bath time can become a very special part of your daily routine, says Rowe, and is a wonderful bonding time with your baby. She suggests that mom and dad are both involved: “Dad can run a bath while mom undresses baby. Then dad gets in the bath with baby, and mom is free to take baby once bathed so she can then dress her in the nursery.”

Neat Little Nails
Rowe suggests keeping your baby’s nails short otherwise she is likely to scratch herself. “Moms can carefully clip or cut the nails with special baby scissors or clippers, but gently biting the nail off is often the best route to take in the first weeks, as there is no chance of accidentally cutting her fingers,” she says.
Whichever method you choose, a great tip is to wait until your baby falls asleep or is nursing contentedly before you trim her nails.

I Hear You
Rowe emphasises that ears are self-cleaning, and there is no need for you to try and clean your baby’s ear canal. If you see earwax in the outer ear, she advises that you can carefully remove it with an earbud.

Breathing Easy
“If your baby’s nose becomes blocked,” says Rowe, “put a little expressed breastmilk in a dropper, and put a couple of drops in each nostril. Breastmilk has many benefits; it clears the nasal passage, and it has an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic effect.”

If moms don’t have breastmilk or prefer not to do this, a paediatric nasal spray also works effectively. After adding drops or using a spray, and once the mucus has softened, you can use a nasal aspirator to suction the mucus out of her nose. Follow the instructions that come with the aspirator.

Umbilical Cord Care
Your baby will have an umbilical cord stump for the first one to three weeks of her life, during which time it will dry out and turn black before eventually falling off. Rowe recommends that you clean the stump with each nappy change, and in between. “I like to use a few drops of the liquid Rescue Remedy (any type, except for flavoured ones) on the cord. This has two effects on the baby – firstly it will help to dry out the cord, and secondly the active ingredient in it will be absorbed through the skin and will help to calm your baby.”

She adds that you need to make sure the stump is kept outside of baby’s nappy, so that it doesn’t become soggy.

You may see a little blood on the stump and again when it falls off. This is completely normal. However, if you see pus or red swelling around the stump, seek medical attention as it is likely to be an infection, which needs to be treated.