Baby hygiene

You’re finally home from the hospital with your new bundle of joy. The anesthesia and exhaustion are melting away and you might be wondering if you can remember everything the nurses taught you in your time at the hospital.

In fact, they probably discussed so much information with you that you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to remember it all, particularly the best ways to keep your baby clean. She has so many delicate parts, each requiring a different gentle touch.

But don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. In the meantime, here’s a quick refresher course.

Baths. Babies are naturally clean. They aren’t playing in the dirt yet, so a bath is really only needed once every few days. Until the umbilical cord falls off, sponge baths are necessary. Once the stump has healed, it’s safe to immerse your baby in water. Use soap specially formulated for babies and make bath time a soothing ritual.

Scalp. Not all babies are born with hair and some lose theirs within the first few days. But if he does have hair, you don’t have to worry about a special shampoo. Many gentle baby cleansers work for the hair as well as the body.

Cradle cap. If you see flakes on your baby’s scalp, don’t be alarmed. While it’s not pretty, it’s harmless.

“It’s normal to have it,” says Dr. Lori Anne Walsh of Glenbrook Pediatrics and also on staff at Children’s Memorial Hospital."Parents shouldn’t worry about it.”

Cradle cap usually clears up on its own, but if it bothers you there are a few techniques to reduce it. Gently towel your baby’s head after shampooing, lightly slough it off with a soft bristled toothbrush or put some baby oil on the scalp.

Nose. When an infant’s nose becomes congested, it sounds like she is gurgling when she breathes, mainly because babies primarily breathe through the nose.

“If she is eating and active, she’s probably OK,” says Walsh."Try not to use a bulb syringe too much because a parent might stick it too far up the nose.”

Ears. Occasionally parents will notice ear wax in their baby’s ear. Cleaning it out isn’t necessary. In fact, doctors discourage anyone from digging into their ear to eliminate ear wax.

“Ear wax is normal,” says Dr. Mary Hall of Kids Health Partners in Skokie."Just wash the outside of the ear.”

Gums. There is still some debate when to begin gum care. Some doctors recommended swabbing the gums from the earliest months and others recommend beginning light brushing when the first tooth erupts.

Cheeks. Babies drool. Cheeks catch the drool and dry up quickly, causing rosy cheeks that are sensitive to the touch.

“Use a little Aquaphor on the cheeks if they are dry,” says Walsh.

Skin. While not always necessary, a little moisturizer won’t hurt your baby. Used in conjunction with a light massage, moisturizer keeps your baby’s skin soft and smooth. If your baby’s skin tends to be dry or rough, make moisturizer a regular part of your routine. Eczema requires the use of special creams or ointments, which you can get through your pediatrician.

Cord care. The debate rages on concerning cord care too. The older thought was to swab the cord once or twice a day with a tiny amount of alcohol to help it dry up faster. But some hospitals are telling parents to leave the cord alone because it will dry up and fall off on its own. Follow the advice of your pediatrician.

Nails. Babies are not only able to grow nails quickly, they are also really adept at scratching themselves or others. Removal of the tips is good for everyone.

“If they come off easily, go ahead and gently pull the tips off,” says Hall."Sometimes clipping can cause bleeding so parents might want to try filing nails down with an emery board.”

Diaper. It’s important to change your baby when he is wet or has a dirty diaper. But you only need to use wipes with a soiled diaper. Urine doesn’t require the use of a wipe, which might lead to irritation. If your baby has diaper rash, an over-the-counter medication can help to relieve it in most cases.

Genitals. When a girl has a dirty diaper, be sure to clean around all of her folds to remove any remaining stool. Always clean from front to back. With boys, just make sure everything is cleaned after a dirty diaper and at bath time.

If your son is circumcised, gently clean the penis and keep the bandages changed regularly until healed per the directions of your pediatrician. With an uncircumcised boy, don’t try to retract the foreskin. It will be a while before it is able to retract. Just keep the entire area clean.

Fat folds. Both Walsh and Hall encourage parents to clean in between the fat folds and under the chin. Food, spit up and dirt all tend to gather in these little pockets on your baby and can accumulate quickly. Use a damp washcloth or a wipe to clean these areas.

Michelle Sussman is a mom of two, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. Visit her on the Web at

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