Do Baths Help Babies Sleep?
Updated Jan 31st 2023 | 7 min read
Updated Jan 31st 2023 | 7 min read
Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
A baby’s bath time is special – it’s a moment of togetherness away from the world. But do baths help babies sleep? It’s a question I get a lot. The short answer is “yes.”
Here I’ll discuss how to use baths to help your baby sleep and answer other common questions about bathing your baby, including “How often should I bathe my baby?” and “When do I first bathe my baby?”
IN THIS ARTICLE:
To answer the most pressing question first – yes, baths can help babies sleep!
Baths help babies sleep for two reasons – one is physical, the other emotional or mental.
On the emotional level, baths can be calm and gentle – a moment of quietude when your baby can focus on the warm water, rather than the many sights and sounds of the world at large.
That said, your baby is unique, and some babies become more excited at bath time. If you know baths stimulate your baby, it may not be the best way to calm them before bed. Luckily, there are many other ways to help your baby sleep through the night.
On a physical level, baths promote something called vasodilation.
Basically, when we humans soak in warm water, our blood redistributes from our core to our limbs and rises to the surface of our skin.
This process redistributes body heat and cools our core temperature.
Further, when we step from the water, our blood vessels remain open, keeping our body temperature lower, which induces sleepiness.
If you’re familiar with setting up your baby’s sleep space, you know that babies sleep best in rooms that are between 68-72°F, which can help produce melatonin, a natural hormone that helps babies, and adults, sleep.
Vasodilation is related: a bath helps redistribute your baby’s body heat, lowering their core temperature and creating the physical and physiological conditions that help your little one doze off to sleep.
While baths do help relax babies and prepare them for sleep, it’s unclear if baths themselves will help improve the quality of your baby’s sleep. We do know, however, that baths pared with a bedtime routine can help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, too.
We also know that babies sleep longer if they’re sleep trained – a process that works with your baby’s unique circadian rhythm to promote independent sleep. For step-by-step guidance on sleep training, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™.
Most medical professionals recommend waiting at least 24 hours after birth to give your baby their first bath, though you can of course go even longer. In addition to providing you time to enjoy some postpartum relaxation and rest – you’ve earned it! – waiting 24 hours to bathe your baby preserves their Vernix.
Important Note: A baby’s first “bath” may simply be wiping down with a warm washcloth or sponge. You want to wait until your baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off before submerging them in water up to their chest.
Vernix, technically known as vernix caseosa, is a layer of greasy membrane that coats babies when they’re first born.
It used to be that doctors or nurses would wash this material off immediately, but more recent research has shown that vernix’s proteins, fatty acids, and water actually helps moisturize and protect your baby’s sensitive skin. That’s why we – and doctors – recommend waiting 24 hours before bathing your baby. This allows the vernix to moisturize and nourish your baby’s delicate skin.
Wouldn’t it be nice if babies came with instruction manuals? Unfortunately, they don’t – which means many of us see our dirty baby and wonder, “How do I wash this sweet angel?”
Tip: Put the towel in the dryer for 10 minutes to give it some extra warmth.
Note: Always keep an eye on your baby in the tub.
Newborns and babies have different bath “schedules”. Most often, newborns need 3 baths a week, though it may be more or less depending on their exposure to dirt. (Newborns don’t get that dirty, after all!)
Older babies may need more frequent baths, especially if your baby is active and prone to digging in dirt, pet’s bowls, or other germ-laden areas. Typically, a baby won’t need daily or near daily baths until they’re 6-12 months.
We’d first like to define bedtime routines for people who may not be familiar with them.
Bedtime routines are the actions or activities you and your baby do before bedtime. This routine can include cuddles, story time, and, yes, bedtime routines often include a quiet, calm bath.
Baths are good part of a bedtime routine because, as mentioned above, they help prepare your baby’s mind and body for bed.
Routines are all about repetition. Your baby begins to recognize the repetition, understands that the routine precedes sleep, and they will mentally prepare to fall asleep. Once they recognize this pattern, they themselves will start to soothe themselves to sleep – that’s why sleep coaching is so effective: it teaches your baby how to fall asleep independently.
This is also why we recommend sleep training at 4 months or after: 4 months is when your baby begins to recognize patterns.
While sleep training itself should wait until around or after 4 months, you can start your bedtime routine as soon as you bring your newborn home. This will help them grow accustomed to the pattern – and you, too.
Keep in mind that a newborn’s sleep patterns are very disorganized: they need to eat often, and their circadian rhythms are still months from forming, so a routine won’t “click” until they’re around 4 months.
For more tips on how to start on your sleep training journey, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™.
We know from our own experiences how challenging sleep training can be – and that’s precisely why we created this app: to help parents like you understand and help shape their baby’s sleep. Because sleep training is about more than getting some rest tonight or tomorrow – sleep training sets your baby up for years of success. And it can all start with a bath!
Yes – just like baths can calm your baby before bed, they can be used when your baby is overtired or experiencing the witching hour.
This is more “what when,” because, let’s face it, we parents won’t and don’t always have time for a bath. Nor will our babies always need it. In cases like that, we find that gently wiping your baby’s face with a warm, wet washcloth or sponge can be just as soothing and comforting as a baby.
Tip: If your baby is 2 months or younger, you can swaddle them and run warm water from the faucet over their heads. This is especially helpful if your baby is fussy or thrashes in the water.
Bedtime should be at most 90 minutes after your baby’s bath. After that the effects of vasodilation will have faded.
You should wait at least 24 hours after birth before giving your newborn their first bath, but that bath will likely just be a sponge bath.
You should wait to submerge your baby’s body until after their umbilical cord comes off.
After that, newborns typically need a bath every 3-4 days.
For newborns, every 3-4 days is a good bath schedule. For older babies, around 3-6 months, you may want to up the rate to every 2 days– though daily baths can be part of a bedtime routine. Daily baths will become more essential as your baby approaches 6-12-month, when they become more mobile.
You should wait at least 24 hours before washing a newborn and wait until their umbilical cord falls off before submerging their bodies in water. Instead, use a clean, warm washcloth or sponge for “spot cleaning”. Some say it’s alright to wait until 6 weeks for a baby’s first true bath, though it’s up to you.
If you’d like to learn more about how to help your baby sleep as they grow, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It will help you lay the groundwork for a strong sleep coaching program and, when the time comes, walk you through a customized sleep coaching program created just for you and your baby.
“Functional link between distal vasodilation and sleep-onset latency?” The American Journal of Physiology.
“Vernix, the newborn, and innate defense,” Pediatric Research.
“First bathing time of newborn infants after birth: A comparative analysis,” Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing.
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.