08/20/2013 10:30 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

How Often Should You Bathe Your Baby?


By Chaunie Brusie for

When my husband and I first became parents, our daughter developed a flaky, yellow, scaly "rash" on her head. We rushed her to the pediatrician's office, anxious to restore our baby's perfect skin.

The diagnosis?

We were bathing her too often.

In our quest to become the perfect parents, we had lovingly looked forward to her bath time each and every night, enjoying using her first little baby wash, anxiously fretting over the optimal bath temperature. She loved her bath and we loved the calming routine it provided to her at nighttime. Little did we know that our little bath time routine might actually be harmful to her.

How often should you bathe your baby?

Healthy Children, the official parenting site of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that infants up to a year old may only need bathing three times a week. And as we found out the hard way, bathing babies more often than is necessary can dry out their skin.

Is excessive bathing harmful?

Generic baby soaps, even the hypoallergenic and gentle formulas, still contain moisture-stripping ingredients that can cause a baby's skin to dry out excessively, especially in the head and scalp area, and may lead to overactive oil glands that could contribute to "cradle cap," that yellow, scaly rash that our daughter experienced.

In our case, we also found that the baby wash that we were using tended to "build up" on our daughter's head, even with thorough rinsing, and made the cradle cap worse. The Mayo Clinic reports that the "exact cause" of cradle cap is not known, but is thought to be a result of hormones and/or a fungus or yeast that lives on the skin. The best prevention?

Washing your baby's scalp every few days, instead of every day.

Obviously, we didn't set out to bathe our baby everyday with the intention of drying out her delicate skin or giving her a raging case of cradle cap; instead, we were trying to bond with our baby and establish a calming bedtime routine. We knew that she enjoyed her nighttime bath and it set the tone for the evening to get her "ready" for bed. (Although "bedtime" is a loose term with a newborn, of course.)

When we finally realized that daily nighttime bathing of our baby was not only unnecessary, but making her uncomfortable, we switched up our nighttime routine. Without a warm bath to calm her, we tried infant massage with some lavender baby lotion (the lavender is supposed to be calming) and stuck to swaddling and nursing her (well, obviously, I was the one nursing her) to cue her to sleep.

In only a few days, with the reduced bathing, our daughter's cradle cap cleared up and we relaxed a little on our strict nightly bath time routine.

Until that is, her next diaper blowout. Can someone please explain to me how such little people can make such huge messes?

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Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN, is the author of the blog Find Chaunie on Twitter at @tinybluelines and on Facebook.