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Bathing the Baby

Bathing the Baby

When a new baby arrives you suddenly have so many new tasks. Parenting is a big role – huge in fact – imagine the job description were you to write one! One of the tasks on your new list is bathing the baby. This article looks at both the pragmatics of bathing a baby as well as safety considerations.

Where Should I Bath the Baby?

Perhaps the first most important consideration is where you will bath your baby. A normal adult bath is unsuitable for a number of reasons. Apart from being very awkward to get down to, there are also the safety issues associated with the much larger volume of water required to achieve the same comparative depth as you would in a much smaller container.

Showering with Baby

There are many versions of baby baths on the market that will do the job nicely. Most also have stands available for purchase. That said, the kitchen or bathroom sink will often do just fine (and without the issues of draining afterwards). Alternatively a plastic basin on a table or adequately sized kitchen bench (or even on the floor at a pinch) will work just as well.

How often Should I Bath the Baby?

There are two answers to the question of how often. One is around hygiene and the other around just how much your baby likes water. If your baby is newborn, a bath once or twice a week is enough to keep him or her clean, provided you follow some basic hygiene principles in between. These include washing your baby’s face each day, cleaning his or her bottom and genitals during each nappy change, and cleaning any other spots that obviously need it!

On the flipside a warm bath can be both fun and relaxing for you and your baby so you may like to include it as a daily routine. This is especially true if you find that a warm bath helps your baby settle down to sleep.

When Should I Bath the Baby?

When you bath your baby will depend on lots of factors, including your daily schedule and who you want to be involved. Perhaps the most important thing is to choose a time when you are least likely to be interrupted and won’t be rushing to finish.

Some new parents prefer to bath their new baby during the day, especially if night-times can be a bit hectic. This gives them more time to spend with their baby and allows their baby lots of time to enjoy the water. Ultimately though bath time can become part of the bedtime routine.

If one parent is working and the other is at home caring for baby, bathing the baby can often be a nice task for the working parent to take on. It provides precious bonding time as they watch their baby’s responses to the water (hopefully good ones) and interact with their child in a calming environment.

What Do I Need to Bath the Baby?

Before you bath your baby the first most important thing is to make sure you have everything you need together in one place. You will need:

  • Your chosen ‘bath’ (kitchen sink, basin, baby bath etc) filled with enough warm water to allow your baby to kick and splash freely (or no more than waist deep for older babies)
  • A bath thermometer for checking water temperature – 37 degrees Celsius is ideal
  • A face washer or sponge (avoid anything abrasive no matter how cute)
  • Some cotton buds and cotton wool or swabs (for cleaning baby’s eyes, nose, cord)
  • Two towels – one to dry your baby and one as a back-up in case of disaster (you drop one in the bath, your baby wees on it etc)
  • Nappy wipes or whatever you usually use to clean baby’s bottom (in case their nappy is dirty at bath time)
  • A cloth nappy or old towel (in case baby does a wee or poo during the process!)
  • Clean clothes and a nappy
  • A warm blanket, muslin wrap or anything else you’d like to wrap baby in after their bath

How Do I Bath the Baby?

Now for the important bit – actually bathing the baby! Especially for new parents, bathing the baby can seem quite scary. There can seem to be so much to think about and remember. But like many other parenting tasks, bathing your baby will quickly become second nature.

The first part of your baby we want to wash is their face and this is easiest done before you put them in the bath. You may like to undress them down to their nappy first or undress them after cleaning their face, depending on room temperature. Cotton wool dipped in some water is the simplest tool for cleaning faces. You do not need to use soap or cleanser. If your baby has any dried mucous near their eyes or nose, soften it first by gently dabbing with your wet cotton wool. It will then wipe away without hurting baby.

It’s best to use separate pieces of cotton wool to clean the nose and each eye. This avoids the possibility of transferring any infections. To clean your baby’s eyes, wipe from the inside of their eye (the side closest to their nose) and outwards. This ensures that any particles are wiped out of the eye and away from the tear duct (which is in the inner corner of your eye), reducing the chance of a blocked tear duct.

Remember that baby boys (and sometimes even baby girls) will urinate when their bottom comes in contact with air. Be ready with that cloth nappy or old towel we mentioned! If your baby has a dirty nappy, make sure you clean their bottom and genitals in the same fashion you would for a normal nappy change, before putting baby in the bath. This avoids any nasty cross-infections.

If your baby is very tiny, you will still be caring for the navel/cord stump. Using some cotton buds dipped in water, gently clean around the navel area.

Having a Bath with Baby

To get your baby into the water, gently lower him or her in using one hand to support their back and neck, and the other to steady their body. Babies can get quite slippery when wet and they will wriggle so do keep a firm but comfortable grip on your baby. For many new parents, this is the frightening bit. The important thing to remember is to try to stay calm – you are unlikely to drop your baby in the water and in the event that they do wriggle free, you will retrieve them so quickly you will shock yourself!

Next gently wash your baby’s body from top to bottom using the sponge or face washer you have ready. Then gently turn your baby over in the water, supporting their upper body with your arm, and their neck and chin with your hand. You can then wash your baby from top to bottom again.

Once the task of actually cleaning your baby is done, don’t rush to get them out. Researchers believe that for babies, the sensation of being in water is akin to being in the womb. Most baby’s love to float there, with your assistance, kick their legs, and experience the sensation of water on and moving past their skin.

As we mentioned earlier, this can be a lovely time to watch your baby’s reactions. Dribble a little water gently down his or her back. Scoop up a handful and pour it gently on their chest or shoulders. Slosh the water a little around their feet. Give their foot a little tickle and watch their reaction when they discover… splashing! You will come to know what your baby likes.

How Do I Dry the Baby?

Once bath time is over, lift your baby out of the bath straight onto a towel and wrap them up. Remember they may be quite slippery so again, keep a firm grip. You can then pat your baby dry gently while they are wrapped. Once you have the bulk of their skin dry you can unwrap your baby, gently patting dry any areas you missed.

Again if your baby is very young you will need to tend to their navel/cord stump. Dry cotton buds can then be used to gently dry the area. For more on cord care consider reading our article on the topic. Find out more…

If you have a moisturising lotion you’d like to use, now is the time to put it on. Remember, only ever use lotions intended for baby use (not adult use), watch for signs of irritation and discontinue use if you see any. Before you dress and wrap your baby you might like to give him or her a massage. To learn more about baby message visit our Baby Massage page. Find out more…

Can I Have a Bath with my Baby?

Having a bath with your baby can be wonderful. It’s a chance for skin to skin contact and also for both of you to have a little relaxation time together. If this is your first baby you may not feel comfortable being in the bath with your baby when they are very tiny. But by the time they are a couple of months old you will probably find you are far less concerned.

Remember the general ‘rules’ for bathing don’t change when you are in the bath – make sure the water is not too hot, avoid any bath products you might use normally yourself but could be harsh for baby’s skin, and ensure your baby is safely supported at all times.

If you don’t have a bath at home you may be considering taking your baby into the shower with you. Showers have the potential to be dangerous for a tiny baby. If you are both slippery with cleanser, dropping baby becomes more likely and you are standing on very hard tiles.

The answer is – no cleanser! Without actually washing yourself, you can step into your shower holding baby, experience the water falling on both of you, and then step out without ever taking your hands off your baby or introducing slipperiness. If you don’t have a bath this can be a viable solution so that you can experience some of the ‘loveliness’ of sharing water with your baby.

So What are the Safety Issues When Bathing the Baby?

As we have mentioned it is important to ensure the water is not too hot and to avoid using anything harsh on baby’s skin. However the most obvious safety issue when bathing your baby is the water. It is important to remember that no matter how mobile a baby may seem on land, water is a very different story. Babies and young children are not able to right themselves easily if they topple in water.

Conversely it is important to remember that even though your newborn baby may not seem to move much, if they are not being supported by an adult they can easily get into trouble in as little as three centimetres of water. Many babies and young children have drowned in bathing accidents of different sorts, but the common ingredient is lack of adult supervision.

While you are with your baby they are safe. For this reason, never leave your baby unattended in water, even if they are in a bath seat or other type of bath support. It is also not safe to leave your baby in the care of older children in the bath. As much as they may love their baby brother or sister, children are easily distracted and don’t always make the best decisions.

If you must leave the bathing area for any reason (plaintiff cries from another child, the arrival of a visitor, or a call you can’t miss) always take your baby with you. Grab a towel, wrap them up snuggly and go attend to what you need to with baby safely in tow.

Written 17 Mar 2014 for www.birthpool.net.au

Yvette Barton has a Bachelor of Education and currently works as both an eLearning Adviser for Swinburne Online Learning, and as a freelance writer and editor. Yvette is a fierce advocate for homebirth, women’s rights to choose where they labour and birth, and trained midwives’ rights to attend birthing women without governmental constraints. Yvette is also an advocate for natural and adoptive breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, conscious parenting, and child advocacy. Yvette lives in Sydney with her two daughters.

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