bathing a premature baby

Bliss, the special care baby charity, provides vital support and care to premature and sick babies across the UK. Founded 30 years ago this year, we offer guidance and information at a critical time in families' lives. We also fund ground-breaking research and campaign for babies to receive the best possible level of care regardless of when and where they are born.

Your premature baby’s first bath is a very special and exciting yet often scary event for parents. It is best if you, the parents do the first and subsequent bathing so your baby feels safe and calm.

Wrapped bathing can be very relaxing and soothing for the baby, especially when they are small or still worried about being undressed.

Bathing offers parents a valuable time for observing their baby’s behaviour so that the way you bath is adapted to his/her developing needs.

Wrapping the baby in a sheet while he/she is immersed into the water and doing everything very slowly, pacing your washing in small bursts according to the baby’s reactions, will prevent tears at bath time and ensure he/she has enough energy to feed afterwards.

maggie hand on bliss kangaroo care cuddledry baby towel


The bath should be planned to enable you to:

  • Include dad or another family member if possible, as bathing is often a 4-hands job!

Before the bath:

  • Provide a warm, relaxing atmosphere, quiet and calm with soft background lighting.
  • Prepare all the equipment, clothing and cuddle towel first.
  • Prepare the baby by approaching quietly, talk softly before and during undressing the baby, and tell the baby what is going to happen at each stage.
  • While undressing the baby, provide hand and/or blanket support to keep the baby tucked up feeling safe and offer containment of any outstretched arms or legs as necessary.
  • Adjust the pace of what you are doing according to the baby’s cues (i.e. look for reactions that mean he/she needs a time-out pause (yawns, sneezes, breathing fast for example); proceed slowly.
  • Support the baby by holding hands or feet and keep one half wrapped while the other half is being undressed.

During the bath

  • Consider ways to help the baby feel secure and to avoid distress when naked and placed into the water e.g. wrap in a thin sheet or muslin.
  • When the baby is ready to go into the water make sure the water temperature has not cooled down too much.
  • Tell the baby what is going to happen all the time.
  • Immerse the baby into the water ……feet first STILL WRAPPED.
  • Make sure the water is deep enough to cover the baby’s torso.
  • Let the baby adjust to the experience of being in the water before washing or removing the wrap.
  • Allow the baby’s legs to be near the end of the bath to brace against so he/she feels secure.
  • Continue to go slowly pacing the way you proceed according to the baby’s behavioural cues.
  • Only uncover one body area at a time while you wash. Replace the wrap and then do the other body area.
  • Allow the baby opportunities to experience buoyancy if stable enough – a floating feeling on his back, side or front is very relaxing.
cuddle premature baby in cuddledry baby hooded towel

After the bath:

  • With the wrap left in the bath water, lift the baby from the bath on his side with the arms and legs tucked into his/her body.
  • Bend down to be near the bath as you bring him/her onto the towel, which is against the parent’s chest.
  • Keep the baby contained in the towel until the baby is settled.
  • When settled dress the baby keeping the top half covered, while drying and dressing the bottom half.
  • Consider Kangaroo Care after to help settle and re-warm the baby.


  • Bathing is completed pleasurably, safely and effectively.
  • The baby’s stability has been maintained and the baby has enough energy to feed if necessary.
  • The parent and the baby have enjoyed the bath experience together.
  • Parents feel confident about carrying out bathing and supporting their baby through what is often a challenging procedure.
  • The neonatal staff have helped, supported and observed the baby during a challenging procedure and are able to assess and record the baby’s strengths and sensitivities.


(Cuddledry Ltd. is not the writer of this copy and accepts no responsibility for its content.  This article been contributed to Cuddledry Ltd. by the author detailed).