Put Down The Soap — Your Baby's Hair Doesn't Need As Much Washing As You Think

Babies don't come with a manual — they come with approximately one million manuals, from Spock to Sears. But what parent has time to read them? On my end, it's been a whole lot easier to ask my doctor for advice when I have questions about baby basics, but honestly, it's a toss up whether or not I'll remember them on the day of a well visit, like when it comes to baby grooming. Wondering, how often should you wash your baby's hair? You're not alone.

Adults tend to think they need to shampoo their own hair every day — after all, a daily shower is a common ritual. But did you know that you're almost certainly washing your hair too often? Especially if you have curly or dry hair, shampooing so regularly isn't doing your skin any favors, according to WebMD. That goes double for babies and newborns, whose skin is delicate and apt to dry out in any case. "Parents should wash hair with a bath two to three times a week," explains clinical nurse specialist Christi Schernecke, of Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado, in an interview with Romper.

According to Schernecke, washing hair too often can cause skin to dry out. Though a nightly bath is often a key ingredient of a bedtime routine, it's probably a good idea to wait to build it into your daily schedule until babies hit toddlerhood. At which point, they attract dirt and muck like tantrum-prone magnets — so a bath is usually a must.

On the other hand, if you don't wash your baby's hair enough, skin and oils may build up on the scalp, which might result in cradle cap. Just don't be surprised if your baby develops cradle cap despite your best efforts. According to Healthy Children, exposure to hormonal changes in pregnancy can also overstimulate oil glands.

So what type of shampoo is best for little heads? "Scent-free, mild, and approved for babies," Schernecke explains. "They have a lot of smelly stuff out there, but that’s just another chemical." And really, who needs a baby to smell like lavender or vanilla when they smell so sweet to begin with? I can personally recommend JASON Fragrance Free Shampoo for Sensitive Scalps ($9, Walgreens), which cleans without adding unnecessary fragrance.

You can't start washing you baby's hair too early in life. In fact, babies usually have their hair washed in the hospital to clear away meconium and other fluids. Premature babies can also benefit from a gentle shampoo. Schernecke, who also works in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), notes that a swaddle bath — or "swaddle immersion bath," as CBS Denver called it — is the most developmentally-sound early bathing method for premature and term infants alike.

"In the NICU, we’re really pushing towards the swaddle-tub baths," says Schernecke. "You swaddle the baby up in a blanket and put them in the tub. You let the blanket get wet, and then you uncover the chest, the arm, one at a time." Each body part is covered up again as you work. The swaddle bath helps babies feel contained, as well as keeping them warm.

"It’s developmental," Schernecke explains. "Premature babies can’t handle a lot of stimulation or having their arms flailing around ... it’s something we do in the NICU, but they also recommend it for well newborns. Feeling like they don’t have any boundaries can be stressful for them."

Whether you swaddle or tub bathe, consider washing your baby's hair last. Babies lose heat through their heads quickly, so it's a good idea to minimize the amount of time they spend with their scalp wet. Finally, remember to shampoo your baby's hair no more than two to three times a week. It may seem counterintuitive, but shampooing every day can lead to uncomfortably dry skin for adults and babies both. Happy baby bathing.

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