What you need to know

  • It’s normal for children to play with their genitals (private parts). Talk to them about where and when it’s appropriate for them to do this.
  • Use warm water and a cotton ball to keep your baby’s genitals clean and prevent infection.
  • Your baby or child’s penis and foreskin (the loose skin that covers and protects the end of the penis) don’t need any special care - there’s no need to clean inside the foreskin in young boy.
  • Never pull the foreskin back using force. It will detach by itself, and will often be able to be pulled back by 3 to 5 years. For many boys this isn’t possible until puberty, and this is quite normal.
  • You generally only need to clean your baby girl’s labia to remove traces of poo.
  • In the first few weeks, it's normal for your baby girl's vagina to be swollen and red, or have a clear, white or slightly bloody discharge.

Children are curious about their bodies

Most young tamariki play with their genitals. This is a normal part of their development and how they learn about their body.

Talking to your child in a relaxed way about their behaviour and when and where it’s okay to play with themselves will help them learn about their bodies and how to care for them. A good time for this conversation can be when you’re teaching them to clean themselves.

If you’re concerned about this, you may like to talk to PlunketLine, your Plunket nurse or another healthcare provider.

Keeping your baby's genitals clean

Keeping your baby's genitals clean will help prevent infections and keep pēpi healthy.

You don't need to clean your baby's genitals with soap. Instead, use warm water and a cotton ball. If you do use soap, use a small amount of mild soap, and be sure to rinse it all off.

You can clean your baby’s genitals at bath time or when doing a nappy change. 

Penis care

Your baby or child’s penis and foreskin (the loose skin that covers and protects the end of the penis) doesn't need any special care.

  • The foreskin shouldn’t be pulled back by force. It’ll often be able to be pulled back by three to five years of age, but for many boys this isn’t possible until puberty. This is quite normal.
  • There’s no need to clean inside the foreskin of a young boy. Wash and rinse the penis the same as any other part of the body. When a boy is old enough to clean himself, he can wash his own penis.
  • Once the foreskin pulls back easily, your son should learn to do this as part of normal washing.
  • Make sure he carefully rinses off any soap and pulls the foreskin back over the head of the penis afterwards.

You need to see your doctor if you notice that your child’s:

  • urine (wee) flow is weak, dribbles, or stops and starts
  • your child appears distressed when passing urine
  • your child has a fever along with other symptoms
  • foreskin is swollen when they wee and stretches out like a balloon. This ballooning can be normal, but if it’s severe and the flow of wee (urine) is restricted you should seek advice from your family doctor
  • there is pus or blood coming from the penis.

Vagina care

The labia are folds of skin around the opening of the vagina.

Nappy creams and other substances can collect in and around the labia. Generally you only need to clean the labia to remove traces of poo. 

To clean your baby girl’s labia, use a wet cotton ball to gently wipe front to back between the labia, then pat dry the genital area with a soft towel. Wiping from front to back will help stop bacteria transferring from your baby's bottom to her vagina or urethra and causing an infection.

In the first few weeks, you may notice that your baby's vagina is swollen and red, or that there's a clear, white or slightly bloody discharge. This is normal, and happens because she’s been exposed to your hormones while she was in your uterus. If this discharge continues, or you’re unsure about any other discharge, talk to your Plunket nurse or see your GP. 

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922