Baby hygiene: Basic care

Baby hygiene: Basic care
Practical advice for a squeaky-clean baby, from nails, hair, and teeth to belly button and bum!


Bath time is a great opportunity to bond with your baby through play and physical contact. If you’re calm and confident, your baby will be, too.

  • You don’t need to bathe your baby every day. You usually only need to bathe your baby two or three times a week, provided that you wash the parts of their body that tend to get dirtier (e.g., genitals, bum, and hands) every day. If you want, you can also give your baby a daily once-over with a washcloth or bath mitt.
  • Schedule bath time when your baby is calm. This could be after a feeding or once they’ve woken up from their nap.
During the 9 months your baby spent in the womb, water was their natural environment. It’s no surprise, then, that babies usually like taking baths!
  • Make sure the bath water isn’t too hot or too cold before you put your baby in. Dip your elbow or wrist in the water to check the temperature and avoid accidental burns. The water should feel pleasant to the touch. The ideal temperature for bath water is 37°C, which is the average temperature of the human body.
  • If your baby’s skin is still covered in vernix, don’t rub it off. This natural, protective white substance will be absorbed into your newborn’s skin within a few days.
  • Wash your baby’s face and neck first, then the folds under their arms and behind their ears. Wash their genital area and bum last.
  • You don’t need to use soap every time you bathe your newborn, except to wash their bum, genitals, and hands. When needed, use a small amount of mild, unscented soap.
  • When you’re done, thoroughly pat—don’t rub—your baby dry. Be sure to completely dry the folds of their neck, their armpits, the back of their ears, and the inside of their thighs (groin). This will prevent moisture buildup and rashes.
  • If you notice over time that your baby is prone to dry skin or eczema, give them a short bath (5 to 10 min.) every day in lukewarm water. When you’re done, gently pat them dry. Then, apply an unscented moisturizer.
  • Never leave your baby unattended in the bath. Babies can drown in seconds, even in shallow water.
  • Avoid using scented products, bubble baths, and adult soaps and shampoos. They contain far too many chemicals, detergents, and additives that can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin and the mucous membranes of girls’ vulvae.

To learn more, read our fact sheet on bathing your baby.

Does your baby get upset when you undress them?

If your baby cries when you take off their clothes and diaper, don’t fret. This is a normal reaction. They’re just a little cold. They should be more at ease once they’re in the water, and afterward when they’re wrapped up in a towel.

Belly button

  • Clean your baby’s belly button daily with a cotton swab dipped in warm water. Never use alcohol. Carefully swab around the umbilical cord. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt them. Dry the belly button with the other end of the cotton swab to keep the area clean and dry.
  • Make sure to fold down the front of the diaper below the navel. Let the belly button air out if it isn’t too cold.
  • Don’t pull on the umbilical cord, even if it’s partially detached. If it’s partially detached and you see small traces of blood around the stump, don’t worry! It will fall off by itself once it has fully healed. This usually happens 5 to 20 days following birth.
  • See a doctor if the umbilical cord is oozing (pus) and smelly, bleeding a lot, or red and swollen.

To learn more, read our fact sheet on the umbilical cord.


No consensus
Health professionals don’t always agree on the best method for washing a baby’s penis, but all agree that you should never force the foreskin back. This can lead to tearing or even bleeding.
  • Always clean your baby’s vulva from front to back, gently spreading the labia majora. You may see a whitish deposit between the labia. This substance protects against bacteria, so don’t try to remove it. If there is stool between the labia minora, gently wash it off. However, make sure you don’t go beyond the entrance of the vagina.
  • Wash your baby’s penis and scrotum with mild soap and water. Before the age of 3, the foreskin is often still attached. To clean the penis, gently pull back the foreskin and wipe off any whitish discharge (smegma) from the tip. When you’re done, pull the foreskin back over the penis. Never force back the foreskin to clean under it. To learn more, read our fact sheet on foreskin care.
  • Make sure to always change your baby’s diaper as soon as it’s soiled with urine or stool. This will prevent their bum, vulva, or foreskin from becoming red and irritated. If this happens, apply an unscented zinc oxide ointment at each diaper change. To learn more, read our fact sheet on diaper rash (link in French).
  • Avoid using disposable wet wipes as much as possible, as they often cause irritation. Opt for unscented wipes and use them only when soap and water are not available.
  • Do not use talcum powder (baby powder). Although it was once commonly used to dry babies’ bums, baby powder is no longer recommended. We now know it can cause respiratory problems.


As the foreskin begins to separate from the penis, dead cells that look like whitish secretions may appear at the tip of the foreskin. This isn’t pus or dirt, but rather a substance called smegma.
If you see secretions like this under the foreskin, don’t try to remove them. Wipe away only what is discharged from the foreskin, without forcing it out. This is part of the normal development of the penis.


Regularly irrigating the nose with saline solution has several benefits for babies. It helps remove mucus, keeps the nose moist, and reduces nasal congestion thanks to the salt. It also helps to prevent nosebleeds, colds, and ear infections.

This video from CHU Sainte-Justine demonstrates how to clean your baby’s nose: (in French only).
  • Regularly clear mucus from your newborn’s nose with a saline solution, which you can buy at a pharmacy or make at home. Mucus may come out of both nostrils or even your baby’s mouth.
  • It’s best to irrigate your baby’s nose once a day in the summer and 2 or 3 times a day in the winter. If your baby is congested or has a cold, you can do this more often (3 to 6 times a day). Diaper changes are a good time to clean your baby’s nose.
  • For babies under the age of 6 months, lay them on their side to irrigate their nose. Rapidly empty a syringe filled with saline solution (3 to 5 ml) into the upper nostril. Then turn your baby on their other side and repeat in the other nostril. If your child is older than 6 months, fill a syringe with 5 to 10 ml of saline solution and clean their nose while they’re sitting up. For more details, see our article on cleaning and blowing your child’s nose (link in French).
  • If your baby’s nose is blocked with mucus, irrigate it before they drink, eat, or sleep. You can also try taking a long bath or shower with your baby, as the water and steam may help loosen the mucus and clear their nose.
Recipe for homemade saline solution
Dissolve 10 ml (2 tsp) of salt and 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) of baking soda in 1 L (4 cups) of water that’s been boiled and cooled. You can halve the recipe as long as you maintain the same proportions.
Wash a small bottle in hot soapy water. Rinse the bottle thoroughly with some of the salt water, then fill it with your saline solution. To avoid contamination, your baby should have their own bottle separate from the rest of the family.
Store the remaining solution in the refrigerator in a clean, sealed glass container for up to 7 days. Use it to refill your baby’s bottle throughout the week. Keep the filled bottle at room temperature to avoid rinsing your baby’s nose with cold water. Any solution that has been left unrefrigerated for more than 24 hours should be discarded.


  • Clean your baby’s eyes with a clean, damp washcloth, wiping gently from the inside corner (near the nose) to the outside corner (near the cheek). Use a different part of the washcloth for each eye. This will prevent the spread of minor infections.
  • Do you regularly find white or yellowish secretions in the corner of your baby’s eye? This is likely due to a blocked tear duct. It will clear up within a few months.
  • See a health care provider if you notice redness in or around your baby’s eye, or discharge (pus) coming from the eye.
How to unblock a tear duct more quickly
  • First, make sure your nails are trimmed and your hands are clean.
  • Use the tip of your finger to apply light pressure to the inner corner of the eye. Massage in circles while moving down the nose. Do the same for the other eye. Be sure not to touch the eyes themselves.
  • Repeat this mini massage a few times a day.


  • Wash your child’s ears regularly with a damp washcloth. Never use a cotton swab, as you could injure your baby’s eardrum or push wax deeper into their ear.
  • Don’t forget to clean behind the ears, as moisture and sweat can cause the skin to crack.


  • Wash your baby’s hair once or twice a week with mild baby shampoo. Don’t rub their scalp too hard, and be especially gentle when you get to the fontanelle.
  • Don’t worry if your baby has yellowish flakes on their scalp. These scaly patches are caused by “cradle cap,” or seborrheic dermatitis. It’s a common condition that appears in the first few months of life and will go away on its own. Cradle cap is generally harmless, but there are steps you can take at home to remove the scales.
  • If your baby has cradle cap, wash their hair with a mild shampoo and use a comb to gently loosen the scales. You can also apply a little mineral, almond, or olive oil to their scalp, then run a comb through their hair a few hours later.


During the first few days of a newborn’s life, their nails are completely attached to the skin. Don’t cut them, as you may also nick the nail bed.

  • Wait until your baby’s nails are long enough before clipping or filing them.
  • Choose a time when your child is calm and relaxed to cut or file their nails—for example, immediately after a bath, while their nails are still softened from the water.
  • Cut nails straight across to prevent them from digging into the skin. That way, the corners of the nails will stay relatively long and won’t become ingrown. However, try to slightly round off the corners so that your baby doesn’t scratch themself.


Some babies don’t like to have their teeth brushed. You can start getting your baby used to it even before their teeth come in by cleaning their gums after each feeding with a clean, damp washcloth.

According to the Canadian Dental Association, it’s a good idea to start taking your baby to the dentist as early as age 1, or 6 months after their first tooth appears, to get them used to dental checkups. However, your dentist may want to wait until all of their teeth have come in before their first exam and cleaning.
  • Start brushing as soon as the first tooth appears. Brush your baby’s teeth at least twice a day.
  • To prevent tooth decay, make sure you always brush your baby’s teeth before bedtime. Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, and try not to give them these beverages after brushing their teeth.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for kids.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste recommended for children under age 6. This type of toothpaste is safe and effective at preventing tooth decay. Use no more than a rice-sized sliver of toothpaste to brush. Store toothpaste out of your baby’s reach.
  • Settle down comfortably on a couch, on your bed, or on the floor to brush. Lay your baby on their back and rest their head on your thighs.
  • As soon as your baby is able to stand, start brushing their teeth in front of a mirror. Have them sit on a chair with you standing behind them. Start by gently pushing back one of their lips with your free hand, and then brush their teeth using an up-and-down motion, from the gums to the tip of the teeth.
  • Encourage your child to spit out the extra toothpaste. However, they should not rinse their mouth after brushing. This way, the fluoride in the toothpaste will continue to protect their teeth from decay. Remember to rinse the toothbrush thoroughly after use.
  • Don’t share your toothbrush (or your other children’s toothbrushes) with your baby. Each member of the family should have their own toothbrush to avoid the transmission of microbes.
  • Since children are natural copycats, show them how you brush your teeth right before brushing theirs.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Fannie Painchaud, M.Sc., first-line specialized nurse practitioner
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: February 2023


Photo: GettyImages/Diego Cerro Jimenez


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • American Academy of Dermatology. “How to bathe your newborn.”
  • Canadian Medical Association. “Dental care for children.”
  • CHU Sainte-Justine. “L’ABCdaire du suivi collaboratif des 0-5 ans.” 2023.
  • CHU Sainte-Justine. Nasal hygiene. 2018.
  • CHU Sainte-Justine. La dacryosténose : information destinée aux parents. 2010.
  • Direction générale de la santé publique du ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. Brossage des dents chez les enfants de 6 ans et moins : position du directeur national de santé publique.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Government of Canada. “Talc.” 2021.
  • Labbé, Jean. “Bulletins pédiatriques : votre enfant de la naissance à 5 ans.” 8th ed., Quebec City, Université Laval faculty of medicine, 2022.
  • Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. I brush my teeth with my parents’ help!  Tooth brushing in children age 6 and under with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Eczema Society of Canada. Treating atopic dermatitis.