A: This is a great question with a somewhat surprising answer. Contrary to popular belief, bathing your infant every night is not only unnecessary, but it can actually be a bad thing. The skin of a newborn is very sensitive and tends to be dry. The shampoos that we use, even some of the hypoallergenic brands, can be harsh on your infant’s skin. As we delicately wash their little bodies, we are removing the natural oils and moisture. This makes their skin dry and can make certain conditions, such as cradle cap, even worse.
A pediatrician’s normal recommendation is that you bathe your baby three times per week. Remember when you do to pay particular attention to the areas that tend to get dirtier, such as the diaper area and the skin folds around the neck. Applying a hypoallergenic lotion directly after the bath can help replace some of the moisture and prevent your infant from becoming too dry. As little ones grow and start to become mobile, they will inevitably need more baths.
For many parents, bathtime is a time to bond with their child, as well as help establish a calming bedtime routine. It serves as a cue that it is nighttime and allows baby to differentiate between a nap and bedtime. Some other methods for establishing a goodnight routine include peaceful music, light massage and swaddling. If bathtime is an important part of your family’s routine, you can continue to bathe your infant every night, but use shampoo or body soap only three times per week to protect the skin.
—Katie Friedman, MD, pediatrician and co-founder of lifestyle blog Forever Freckled