Raise your hand if you have been bathing a baby and thought “HEY, this is HARD!”. After all, you have a wet, slippery tiny human being in your hands. Here are some tips to make bath time easier and safer.
1. Very young babies are bathed differently (AKA how to bathe a newborn)
For the first year of your baby, they don’t need to be bathed more than three times a week. If you keep the diaper area well during diaper changes, bathing three times a week is enough. This is especially true if you live in a dryer climate, where daily baths can increase the chances of drying out the baby’s skin. However, if you like in a hot area where your baby would sweat more, or if your baby gets particularly dirty, then do bathe more often.
How to Bathe a Newborn Baby with Umbilical Cord
During the first weeks, when the umbilical stump has not fallen off yet, newborns should only be sponge-bathed. Place the baby on a clean surface, in a room with a comfortable temperature. If you are using a hard surface like a changing table or the floor, put a soft towel under your baby for comfort. Never leave a baby on an elevated surface unattended. Make sure baby is covered in the areas that you are not yet cleaning. You can use a towel for that purpose. Use a basin of water and a washcloth, to clean body parts by sections, uncovering them as you clean.
Steps for newborn sponge bath (before umbilical stump falls off)
- First, start by washing the face with the washcloth damp with clean water only. This avoids soap residue from going into their mouth or eyes.
- Second, put the washcloth in the basin with pre-prepared soapy water and wash the baby’s body.
- Lastly, clean the diaper area at the end paying special attention to creases (aka. Nooks and crannies).
Bathing a baby after the umbilical cord falls off
After the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, the baby may be ready to start bathing directly into the water. At first, they may not like it, so make sure that the transition is gentle, and if they want to receive sponge baths for a little longer, it’s OK. When babies are very little you will find it easier to use a smaller container than your tub. Use a bassinet, tub or clean sink, and filled with up to 2 inches (about 5 cm) of water. Water should not be higher than the baby’s elbows. Good alternatives for baby bathtubs include the traditional tubs with or without a sling, like the First Years Sure Comfort Newborn to Toddler Tub that can be used in multiple settings and holds babies up to 25 pounds. Also, an alternative for parents who want an extra comfortable fluffy surface is the Blooming Bath Lotus. This one transforms almost any sink into a baby tub for infants up to 6 months. Many others are available, just make sure to pick a tub that is
2. Prepare bath water before putting in your baby
A recommendation to avoid scalding your baby when filling the tub from the tap, turn on the cold water before the hot. Also, you would turn off the cold water last. Another solution, that I personally prefer and recommend, is to pre-fill the tub with water before putting in your baby. This allows you to make sure that the water temperature is correct and that water from the tap won’t accidentally be too hot or too cold.
For younger babies like newborns, a water level of 2 inches is usually enough. For older bigger babies, 3 to 4 inches should be enough. You can use your baby’s elbow to guide the highest the water level should be. It may seem like too little water, but this is the easiest to work with while still being safe. Make sure the water temperature is no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Get everything you need ready and within arm’s reach before starting
This may seem so obvious, but a lot of parents may remember they forgot towels only they have a wet slippery baby in their hands. Here’s a quick checklist.
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At first, bathing your baby with plain water may be OK if you extremely diligent with problem areas. When starting baby soaps, make sure you use gentle, fragrance-free baby soap. I agree that fragrances are extra lush, but the chemicals used to make them are controversial at best. There are several brands that offer very good, clean and safe options. I really love and use on myself daily is the Dr. Woods Unscented Baby Mild Castile Soap. I’ve gone through bottles of this stuff and it’s great even for adults.
If your baby has hair you may start shampoo once or twice a week. Do it by massaging the baby’s scalp gently with a washcloth. One of my favorite products is the Made Of Baby Wash and Shampoo because it does two jobs and it has great ingredients.
When you rinse the shampoo off, shield the eye area so that the soapy water doesn’t get into the baby’s eyes. If shampoo does get into the eyes and baby starts to cry, clean their eyes gently with warm, clear water and washcloth. Do that until the soap is gone and they’re comfortable opening their eyes again.
Even if you don’t use washcloths for your own bath time, washcloths are very useful for sponge baths and for sectioning the areas you are cleaning. Ideally, you would want at least two cloths during each bath, so that you can have one to put in soapy water and another to use mostly for washing out the soap, with clean water. Double-rinsing your “rinsing” washcloth helps to remove soapy residues.
Make sure to bring the towels with you and place them at arms reach as well. This is important for several reasons. First, you want to protect baby from the cold environment when they get out of the warm bath. Consider using child-sized towels instead of adult-sized towels, as these are easier to manage without all the extra fabric in the way. (Besides, have you seen those little cute hooded baby towels?)
The other important reason to always keep a dry towel at hand is that if anything happens that you need to leave the bathroom, you can never leave the baby there unattended. Even if you are going to turn your back 1 minute, you must take your baby with you. Babies should never be left alone in the bath. Having a towel with you will allow you to safely and quickly grab the baby to take them with you if you do have to step out of the bathroom before you are done.
Most babies don’t need moisturizer, especially newborns. However, if your baby has a diagnosed skin problem that improves with moisturizer, such as eczema, your baby’s doctor may recommend starting moisturizer. If you don’t get a specific recommendation right off the bat from your doctor, the general guidelines to pick a baby moisturizer are like those of picking the body wash soap and shampoo.
Choose baby products that are free of artificial fragrances (these are not necessarily odorless, but usually are) or dyes. A classic recommendation is the Aveeno Baby Eczema Therapy line, with pretty stellar reviews from Amazon and from my real-life patients. The ingredients are gentle in this one too.
4. Let them have fun (splashing and toys)
At first, getting your baby to like being in the water can be tough. As I said earlier, you might need to transition from sponge baths slowly. As your baby grows, they might start to enjoy more being in the water, and later start to splash around because they find it fun. This is a good way to increase your baby’s confidence with water, so you should allow some splash time.
As for bath toys, they will start enjoying them a bit later. When they do start to play in the tub, toys will be an awesome way to distract them while you cleanse their body. It will also help them associate bath time with lots of fun.
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Giving babies a bath can be scary at first. And it has every reason to be scary because you have to navigate through some safety hazards. If you are reading this blog, it probably means you are a parent who likes to prepare well and plan ahead. Good job! I hope you learned something useful today. Happy splashing!
Do you remember your bath toys? I still keep my favorite rubber duck in my bathroom from when I was a baby 😉 Leave your answer below, I would love to read it.
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