My main anxiety regarding baby care as a new parent was bathing. I worried that a squirmy, slippery baby would slip from my hands and get injured. I had heard a long time ago that the bathroom is the most deadly room in a home, it’s full of hard surfaces which are often wet, and become slippery. Bathtubs also create a drowning hazard. The thought of giving my newborn a bath terrified me….
I was actually happy to find out that newborns don’t need to be bathed much. At birth they generally have a coating of vernix, a waxy substance to protect their skin from the fluid in the uterus. This vernix is something you should ideally not disturb for as long as possible (it will eventually shed naturally). Babies skin is very delicate and use of personal care products should be limited to prevent skin conditions (dryness, flakiness, fungal and bacterial infections).
When you do use products, use as little as possible and as few as possible. You should also find products with few ingredients and which are ph balanced.
For newborns, you should only bathe when they are visibly dirty. As they aren’t able to move around much, this is generally not very often. Bathing will become more necessary when they begin to crawl and/or start eating solids. The skin creases are generally where dirt and gunk will accumulate, as well as under the neck and between the fingers and toes. Sponge baths or wiping them over with a warm wet cloth is often sufficient.
If bathing in a sink, be mindful of the taps and faucet. If they overhang the sink they can be potentially dangerous especially if baby is squirming or when lifting baby out of the water. Ideally you want to use a deep utility sink where the faucet can be moved out of the way.
There may be reasons you want to bathe your baby more frequently perhaps as part of a bedtime routine or if they find it particularly soothing. This is fine if it doesn’t seem to be causing any issues.
Prepare everything first
Gather baby’s clothes, towels, soap, wash cloth, fresh diaper etc before you begin. You should not leave your baby unattended even for a moment so make sure everything is close at hand. It can be helpful to prepare a box or basket with all bathing supplies so you can just grab it and take it to the bathroom.
Should be just above skin temperature. check the temperature by submerging your hand in the water or under the running tap.
Make sure baby is fed and relatively settled before bathing because a screaming, slippery, squirming baby is just dangerous. If they need to be removed from the bath for feeding they can get cold and grumpy (more crying). This can put you in a bad cycle early on if the baby is not liking baths because it associates them with discomfort, you will then begin to dread bathing them, and baby will also pick up on your irritation. Try to make it a positive experience for both of you.
Undress the baby when you are ready to put them in the bath, don’t leave him undressed while the bath is running as he will probably get cold.
When bathing in a sink or baby bath, put you dominant arm under the baby’s head and grab his upper arm with your hand, his head can then rest in your elbow or on your forearm, and you can hold onto him quite tightly so he can’t squirm away. You can then lower him into the bath and your arm will support his head so that it won’t flop or go under the water.
If you hold the baby as directed above he should be very secure and you can use your other arm to wash him. A cotton cloth with a dash of baby body wash should be sufficient to clean the baby. Clean under the neck, top of the head and in any skin folds or creases. If your baby still has an umbilical stump, don’t interfere with it and just clean around it. If it has recently fallen off, you can gently clean the belly button but do not scrub at any remaining scabs. Let them fall off in their own time.
Note; For uncircumcised boys you don’t need to do anything special in that area. The general advice is wash it as you would a finger. Do not attempt to clean under the foreskin or pull it back. At this point, the foreskin is fused to the glans, so, leave it alone.
Dry off the baby as soon as possible after removing them from the bath. A hooded towel is useful as you can put the hood on the baby’s head and then wrap the towel around them without needing to put them down. If you have a partner to help you, you can have them hold the towel ready and you can pass the baby to them. You will want to get a diaper on as soon as possible (unless you want to make a second visit to the bath) and get baby dressed so he won’t get cold.
Full baths aren’t really necessary. You can use a warm wet cloth to wipe over any grimy areas on your baby. There is also the top and tail method; wipe your baby’s eyes with cotton wool and warm water, use a separate piece for each eye. Using separate pieces of cotton wool again, wipe over the genital area and bottom. This should be done daily.
Do you have any other newborn bathing tips? What were you worried about most as a first time parent? I want to hear from you.