Brush up on baby bathing basics here before diving — make that dipping! — in to ensure bathtime is relaxing and fun for both you and your baby.
The number one rule for bathing a baby safely is: Don’t take your hands, or eyes, off of the baby, even for a second. To minimize distractions, “Turn off your phone, set up your tub and towels, and devote this intimate, fun time to you and your baby,” says Noelle Forestal, a birth and post-partum doula in Austin, Texas. Bathtime is an ideal opportunity for bonding, so focusing on the process will not only keep your baby safe, but also set the stage for a stress-free, rewarding experience you and your baby can share. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner for help, too. “Many new parents find it easier to start out bathing their baby as a team until they feel comfortable flying solo,” Forestal says. “Having an extra set of eyes and hands involved will keep Baby extra safe and secure as everyone gets used to the bath time routine.”
Start with the Sponge
Sponge bathing in about an inch or two of warm water (shoot for somewhere between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit) will be fine during baby’s first few months, and is even safe for babies whose umbilical cords haven’t yet fallen off, or who’ve been recently circumcised. (Just leave those areas alone.) “Babies don’t get very dirty at this stage, except in the diaper area, which is cleaned with every change,” says Jennifer Oddleifson, a Physician’s Assistant in Waldoboro, Maine. “Sponge bathing about once a week is ample. It’s usually the most comfortable approach for new parents, too; babies are slippery when wet!”
Go Little by Little
Once you’ve assembled your bath things — some sort of infant tub or sling (check out our guide to baby bathtubs here!), a couple of washcloths, and a towel — make sure the room is warm before you begin undressing your little one to ensure he won’t become chilled. Talk to your baby about bath time as you undress him, and gently lower him — supporting his neck and body completely — into the tub. Once he’s secure, continue supporting him with one hand as you “dip a washcloth in the water and gently clean baby’s face, behind the ears, and in the skin folds,” Oddleifson says. Rinsing and gently wiping your baby clean is the name of the game here; scrubbing could damage his delicate skin. Soaps and lotions aren’t necessary in the early months, either, and you should particularly avoid anything with dyes and perfumes. “A dab of tear-free baby shampoo is fine if a baby has cradle cap, or just a little extra funk,” Oddleifson says. “Simply rinse your baby clean with lukewarm water after using any product.”
Once you’ve finished washing and rinsing your baby, wrap her in a clean, warm towel. When your baby is a few months old, and if your pediatrician has given you the go-ahead to moisturize her skin, Forestal recommends taking advantage of this calm, quiet time after a bath to lightly massage your baby’s growing muscles. “Healing, loving touch works wonders on our favorite little humans,” she says. Use a small amount of a natural oil or lotion that doesn’t irritate her skin. (As with any product, conduct a small patch-test a day or two before going in for the slather.)
Smaller babies tend to prefer shorter baths, but your baby will begin to enjoy splashing and playing in the water as he grows. At about six months, your baby may be ready for a bigger tub, a bit more water, and some bath toys; you can even incorporate a nightly, lukewarm bath into your child’s bedtime routine. The number one safety rule still applies, of course, even for babies who can sit up on their own: supervise, supervise, supervise! Second to that, bath time is all about having squeaky clean fun!