Basic hygiene care

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



Baths

During the 9 months your baby spent in the womb, water was their natural environment. It’s not surprising, then, that babies generally like taking baths! Bath time is also enjoyable because it’s an opportunity to get to know you, exchange smiles, and receive loving caresses. The calmer and more confident you are, the more your baby will be too.

  • You don’t need to bathe your newborn every day. A bath every 2 or 3 days is enough. However, you can still give your baby a daily once-over with a washcloth or bath mitt. Clean their face, ears, neck, and hands, and under their arms. Finish by washing their genital area and bottom.
  • You don’t need to use soap when you wash your newborn, except to clean their bottom, genital area, and hands. Use a mild, unscented soap or a soap-free cleanser (sometimes called syndet or cleansing bars).
  • If, over time, your baby tends to get dry skin, stick to giving them a bath every 2 or 3 days. You can also apply a hydrating, fragrance-free cream (such as Glaxal® Base Moisturizing Cream) after their bath, if needed.

For more information, read our fact sheet on bathing your baby (in French).

Upset when getting undressed
Does your baby cry when you remove their clothing and diaper at bath time? This is a perfectly normal reaction—your little one simply feels a little vulnerable. They should be more at ease once they’re in the water, as well as afterward when they’re wrapped up in a towel.

Regions that require extra-gentle care

The 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! 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.
  • Is your baby’s umbilical cord still partially attached, with small traces of blood around the stump? No need to worry. However, don’t pull on it, even if it’s not completely attached. It will fall off by itself once it has fully healed. This usually happens 5 to 20 days following birth.
  • If the umbilical cord is oozing and smelly, bleeding a lot, or red and swollen, see a doctor.

For more information, read our fact sheet on the umbilical cord (in French).

The genital area

  • Always clean your daughter’s vulva from front to back, gently spreading the labia majora. Don’t clean the inside of a baby’s labia minora. You may remove the mucus that protects against bacteria.
  • Wash your son’s penis and scrotum with water and mild soap. Do not pull back on the foreskin, which is attached at birth and will eventually separate on its own. There is no medical or hygienic reason to force back the foreskin. For more information, read our fact sheet on foreskin care.
  • If your baby’s bottom or foreskin is irritated, make sure to always change their diaper as soon as it is soiled with urine or stool. It’s better to use a washcloth and warm water instead of baby wipes to clean your baby. Apply an unscented zinc oxide ointment at each diaper change. For more information, read our fact sheet on diaper rash (in French).
Smegma
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 is not pus or dirt, but rather a substance called smegma. If you observe secretions like this under the foreskin, do not 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.

The nose

  • To clear your baby’s nose of mucus and prevent infections, clean it regularly: twice a day in the summer and 4 times a day in the winter (you may need to do it more often if your little one has a cold). To clean your baby’s nose, use a saline solution (which you can buy at a pharmacy or make at home). The solution helps remove mucus, keeps the nose moist, and prevents bleeding. The salt component also reduces nasal congestion.
  • Diaper changes are the perfect opportunity to clean your baby’s nose. Lay your baby on their back and gently bring the dropper of solution to their nostrils. Squeeze out an entire dropperful of solution (1 ml) into each one. If you see any dried secretions, gently wipe the edges of your baby’s nostrils with a wet tissue or washcloth. Squeeze another full dropper of saline (1 ml) into each nostril. If this doesn’t take care of the secretions, use a nasal aspirator or a bulb syringe to suck them out.
  • If your little one has a stuffy nose, it’s especially important to clean it before they eat, drink, or sleep. You can also try taking a long bath or shower with your baby; the water and steam may help loosen the mucus and clear their nose.

To see how to clean your baby’s nose with a nasal spray, see our infographic on using saline solution to help unblock little noses (in French).

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 cooled boiled water. Make sure to use exact measurements. You can cut the recipe in half as long as you maintain the same proportions.
Wash a small dropper bottle in hot soapy water and rinse it thoroughly with some of the salt water. Fill the bottle with the saline solution. To avoid contamination, your baby should have their own bottle.
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 dropper bottle throughout the week. Keep the filled dropper bottle at room temperature to avoid putting cold water into your baby’s nostrils. Any solution that has been left unrefrigerated for more than 24 hours should be discarded.

The eyes

  • Clean your baby’s eyes with a clean, wet washcloth, wiping gently from the inside corner to the outside corner. 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.
  • If you notice redness and warmth or pus near the corner of the eye or under the eye, see a doctor. Wash your hands and then clean the eye with a washcloth.
How to unblock the tear duct more quickly
  • First, make sure your nails are trimmed and your hands are clean.
  • Place your little finger on the side of your baby’s nose and, pressing lightly, move your finger up toward the corner of the eye. Do the same for the other eye.
  • Be sure not to actually touch the eyes.
  • Repeat this mini massage a few times a day.

The hair

  • Wash your baby’s head no more than once or twice a week, with mild soap or a little baby shampoo.
  • Does your child have yellowish scales on their scalp? This is known as “cradle cap” or seborrheic dermatitis. Wash your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo and use a comb to help 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.

The nails

  • During the first few days of a newborn’s life, their nails are completely stuck 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 trimming them. Choose a good moment to do it, such as after your little one’s bath, when they’re calm and relaxed, or while they’re sleeping.
  • Don’t forget their toenails! To prevent toenails from becoming ingrown, trim them straight across so that the corners remain relatively long. It’s recommended, however, to leave the corners of the fingernails slightly rounded so that your baby doesn’t scratch themself.

The teeth

  • Babies don’t like to have their teeth brushed. To get your baby used to this hygiene routine, clean their gums after each feeding with a clean, damp washcloth before their teeth start growing in.
  • Start brushing twice a day as soon as the first tooth appears. Settle down comfortably on a couch, on your bed, or on the floor. 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.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste. This type of toothpaste is safe and effective for preventing tooth decay. For children under the age of 3, the amount of toothpaste used should be the size of a grain of rice. For children aged 3 to 6, use an amount about the size of a pea.
  • Encourage your child to spit out the extra toothpaste. However, they shouldn’t rinse their mouth after brushing. This way, the fluoride in the toothpaste will continue to protect their teeth from decay.
  • 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 bacteria.
  • Since children are natural copycats, show them how you brush your teeth right before brushing theirs.
  • According to the Canadian Dental Association, it’s a good idea to start taking your child 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.
  • To prevent tooth decay, avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle containing milk or juice.
A few things to avoid
  • Talcum powder (baby powder): Although it was frequently used in the past to dry babies’ bottoms, baby powder is no longer recommended. It can cause respiratory problems.
  • Scented products and bath milks, bubble baths, and adult soaps and shampoos: These products will irritate your baby’s sensitive skin and the mucous membranes of girls’ vulvae. They contain far too many chemicals, detergents, and additives.
  • Cotton swabs when cleaning the ears, nose, or eyes: You risk pushing the secretions in even deeper and hurting your baby. Clean only the outer areas with a small, dampened cotton ball, a washcloth, or a bath mitt. Don’t forget to clean behind the ears: moisture and sweat can cause the skin to crack.
  • Disposable wet wipes: These often cause irritation. Opt for unscented wipes and use them only when soap and water are not available.
  • Too much sun: Limit sun exposure as much as possible during peak sunlight hours, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. When you go out, keep your baby out of direct sunlight and dress them in a wide-brimmed hat and clothes that cover their legs and arms. For many years, sunscreen wasn’t recommended for babies under 6 months of age because of their delicate skin. However, experts have revised their recommendations after re-evaluating the scientific data. Now, if it isn’t possible to keep your little one in the shade, it’s advised to apply a small amount of sunscreen wherever their skin isn’t covered by clothing.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Audrey Larone Juneau, Nursing Executive, CHU Sainte-Justine
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2018

 

Photos: 123RF/Ruslan Olinchuk and iStock/HannesEichinger

 

Sources

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.

  • Canadian Dermatology Association. “Sun safety for every day.” www.dermatology.ca
  • Brunet, Gilles, et al. L’ABCdaire, Guide de référence du praticien. Montreal, Université de Montréal, December 2005.
  • 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.” Québec, Gouvernement du Québec, 2017, 32 pp. publications.msss.gouv.qc.ca
  • 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. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Labbé, Jean. Pediatric bulletins (birth to age 5). Quebec City, Université Laval faculty of medicine, 2006.
  • Santé et Services sociaux Québec. “I brush my teeth with my parents’ help! Tooth brushing in children age 6 and under with fluoride toothpaste.” publications.msss.gouv.qc.ca
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Sun safety.” www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca
  • Tremblay, Jean-François. “Les écrans solaires, mythes et réalités!” www.fmoq-legacy.s3.amazonaws.com

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