A slippery, sudsy newborn can be quite the intimidating prospect for a new parent. They can seem so fragile! Is the water temperature too hot, too cold, or just right? How in the heck is a mom or dad supposed to lean over at that angle and manage to hold onto them, while somehow washing and rinsing them as well?
While newborns don’t need any baths at all at first aside from an occasional wipe down in problem areas, once it’s time to start cleaning them in the tub, perhaps to incorporate it as part of a soothing bedtime ritual, it can take some time and guidance to figure out how to do things.
And that’s just the start. How about trimming those incredibly sharp and miraculously fast-growing finger and toenails? Even if you have the teeny-tiny clippers, how are you supposed to actually use them to cut the nails -- which are attached to precious little flailing limbs and digits that you really, really don’t want to accidentally cut?
Yep, head to toe, the basic grooming and personal hygiene we need to help our little bundles with for the early years, and probably beyond, can be intimidating and confusing when we’ve never done any of it before.
And some of it you probably haven’t heard of if you haven’t cared for a newborn yet. Any idea what “cradle cap” is -- or how to take care of it?
It can be a lot to find the time to do, and a lot of information to take in. But don’t worry, maybe with these 15 baby grooming tips, you’ll become a pro -- and even begin to enjoy it!
15 Splish Splash, Sort Of
No joke, in the town where I live, there’s a (great) new-parent training class offered by a local nonprofit organization, and amid talk of diapering, feeding, and sleep schedules is the most popular event of the course by far: a baby-bathing demonstration!
You should see the excitement in the expectant parents’ eyes when a volunteer mom brings in a REAL LIVE BABY. So exciting. We can’t wait to see that cutey-wooty, pudgy-wudgy little guy or gal as we prepare to welcome our own little angels. But what future moms and dads really want to see is how, for the love of all things baby, is that mom gonna manage to get that slippery little person clean?
There are many strategies, and whatever works best for you works best for you, from a spray down in the kitchen sink to getting in the bathtub with ’em, but here’s a general plan of attack that works well for me: I put a special baby bathtub within the regular bathtub. I run the water to make sure it’s not too cold and not too hot, and then move the tiny tub under the faucet to fill it to overflowing. I get clean clothes, a brush, diaper cream, and wipes ready at my changing station for afterward, undress my baby, and bring her and her towels to the bathroom. (Consider having your partner as a helper with you the first few times, for reassurance if nothing else.)
I use the special fabric infant sling that holds a small baby just in the water at the top of the tub. I use a soft baby washcloth to gently clean the face and folds, working my way from top to bottom, and use a mild baby wash for the hands, feet, bottom, and neck folds/armpits. The key is to move fairly quickly. Rinse with your hand by splashing water over, or squeeze a washcloth over to rinse.
Better yet, take that huge water cup/pitcher they give you at the hospital and use it to scoop and pour warm water over that baby, being sure to have one hand on them at all times. Then it’s out to a dry towel on your lap, and you’re done!
If it’s too hard to lean over the tub and keep a confident grip at first, try filling the tub (or a large bowl) partway on a spread-out towel in some other room of the house and doing a few practice runs there.
14 Not A Nightcap
So it’s actually really common for babies to get a scaly white or yellowish buildup on their scalps during the first year of life. You may notice it pretty early on or perhaps the skin condition will develop sometimes during the baby’s first months or year.
It looks sort of like little scaly patches, not unlike earwax, now that I think about it, and can almost resemble a sort of gunky, sticky dandruff.
Don’t worry; it’s perfectly normal and can usually just be treated at home. And really don’t worry, because it does not mean that you are neglecting your child’s care or hygiene in any way. It’s just one of those things that tends to happen to little babies’ heads!
Loosening the buildup of skin oils and skin cells and getting them removed can help to treat the condition. Some suggest applying baby oil or mineral oil to the baby’s scalp a while before bath time, then using a brush or comb to gently loosen the buildup before washing and rinsing the baby’s head.
13 Three-Nager, Sure; But Three-Week-Nager?
You may expect that cherubic face to be flawless and pure, but a fairly common baby skin condition may be present: baby acne. It might be present at birth, or the skin condition might develop after a few weeks.
It will probably appear much like other acne (in teenagers or adults), with raised and sometimes whitish bumps on the skin’s surface, often on the face but perhaps on the head or other areas of the body, as well. (Though skin irritations and rashes may be what’s going on in some cases, not acne.)
Hormones passed from the mom to the baby, clogged pores, and a buildup of oils may all be factors, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is, in all likelihood.
Cleansing the area gently once a day should be all that’s needed to take care of the skin, and with time, it should go away.
12 Dental Docket
I haven’t read this one anywhere, but my husband’s dental hygienist gave us this pro tip when she heard we were expecting, and it’s really made all the difference for us with our two babes: As soon as you start up with a bedtime ritual (perhaps bathing, reading, and cuddling) with a new baby, start to include a dental-hygiene aspect, as well.
Yes, I know they don’t yet have teeth in almost all cases, and won’t usually until something like four months at the earliest in many cases, but it works really well to get them used to having someone mess with their mouths from the get-go.
Our babies both really enjoyed having a damp washcloth rubbed over their little gums. It may seem like your tiny baby would never fuss at the notion of you gently cleaning them or their tiny teeth, but I’ve heard terrible tales from parents who wait until teeth are actually present and then find themselves in a nightly wrestling match as they pin their toddlers down amid shrieks and screams just to try to get a toothbrush in there.
Infant “toothbrushes” with soft rubber bristles are available and helpful, as well.
11 See Here
Eye gunk may mean an infection, so always consult with your baby’s pediatrician for diagnosis and treatment tips.
Like adults, though, babies can get a build-up of, well, eye gunk, sleepy dust, and other such fun in the corners of their eyes. Especially in the early days and weeks, their tear ducts can be sort of closed up or blocked still, too.
You don’t want to mess with the area too much, but there are a few good tricks to consider here.
Do you feel like you’ve heard that breast milk can help to treat just about anything? Well it’s sort of true. This warm, fatty liquid full of antibodies might as well be called wonder-cream, since it can help to clear up skin problems for both moms and babies.
Gently rubbing a little over the baby’s eye with a clean fingertip can help to clean things up.
You can also regularly (perhaps once a day, such as to prepare for bedtime) wipe from the inside corner out over the closed eyelid with a soft baby washcloth dipped in warm water. It’s a good idea to use a different part of the washcloth or a new one for each eye, in case there is some sort of infection that you could be spreading.
10 Wrinkle Stink
Babies don’t need a lot of washing, they don’t have stinky sweat like adults do, and they certainly don’t need harsh soaps or deodorants, but it doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes get, well, sort of stinky.
The folds of the body, where breast milk, sweat, and spit-up can tend to accumulate, are often the smelly culprits. Things can sort of start to seem a little sour. And even if you wipe the areas down with a wet wash cloth once a day, it’s sometimes not quite enough -- especially because the more you try to really get in there to the problem area, the more a baby tends to clamp his chin down or clench that fist so you can’t really do an adequate job.
The regular wipe-down, when you can get in there, will probably help somewhat, as will (once the cord stump falls off), a somewhat regular bath. (Bathing a baby daily is certainly not necessary and may irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.) With a mild baby cleanser, wash the stinky areas, rinse them well, and dry them really, really well by gently patting them with a towel. It’s when the skin stays wet that these stinky situations can really tend to develop.
So you know that where the umbilical cord was once attached becomes the baby’s belly button; but do you know how? It’s quite a process.
Thankfully, it’s one that doesn’t really require you to do very much at all, actually.
The cord will be clamped off fairly close to the baby’s body, leaving what’s commonly referred to as the “stump” behind. Yep, the stump.
It can look quite odd to those unacquainted with its appearance. Sometimes it’s scabby. Sometimes it’s quite crusty. Sometimes it snags a bit on those teeny-tiny clothes.
Any concerns about it at all, such as a possible infection? For sure talk with your baby’s doctor. As far as general care, some recommend that you swab around the stump with rubbing alcohol to help dry things out and perhaps keep them from smelling. (There is, after all, a piece of rotting flesh just sort of hanging there.) But some say it’s best to do nothing at all. All will tell you not to submerge it in water until the stump falls off, leaving a healed, brand-new belly button behind!
8 Can’t Be Contained
Diapers are great, in that they often catch the pee and poop, absorb it quite nicely and pull it away from a baby’s tender skin, and allow you to throw it away, clean up the baby as needed, and move on with your life.
Ask any seasoned parent about diapers, though, and you’ll quickly hear about something called a “blowout.” Whether by the sheer force of a poop (think those accompanied by a lot of, um, air), the position a baby is in that allows for some leakage, or just the luck of the draw, sometimes -- especially before solid foods are introduced when baby poops are very, very liquidy -- the poop simply cannot be contained by the diaper.
Sometimes it shoots out the back, sometimes it trickles out the leg hole, but every time, it is quite an ordeal to get cleaned up, until you’ve done it a few times, at least.
Here are my tips: Onesies often have those sort of envelope folds on the shoulders, and this allows them to be taken off down over the hips instead of up over the head, and you know what? That’s a great way to avoid getting poop on your baby’s head and extremities. Rolling up the soiled diaper within the soiled clothes and setting both aside may aid in minimizing the spread of poo to baby’s hands and body and other surfaces.
And if you know a blowout has occurred, might wanna use a changer without a fabric cover on it or even remove said cover before putting the baby down -- one less thing to scrub poop stains out of! Though I do keep an extra little bottle of detergent upstairs at the bathroom sink for just this purpose.
7 Tender Tooshies
There’s a whole wide range when it comes to how often new babies poop, but it can tend to be really quite frequently at first. My husband and I found ourselves with a poopy diaper on our hands pretty much every time our second baby ate in the early days and weeks, so pretty much every couple hours -- at the least.
Add that up, and it’s a lot of pooping. And what do you get when you have a lot of pooping? A lot of wiping.
If you find yourself in this situation, using a wet washcloth rather than a harsher baby wipe may help to avoid irritation to a baby’s sensitive skin. You may even want to just rinse those parts off with some warm water, instead.
But irritation, rawness, and even some rashes are probably inevitable.
There are creams you can apply after wiping and letting the area dry which can really help to prevent irritation. These and others can also be used to treat any redness or rash that occurs. The key is to let the skin dry off a bit before applying the creams and re-diapering.
6 Moisturizing Mode
We tend to wash ourselves quite a bit in this culture, more than we probably even need to. And we go for the whole-body approach, with frequent or even daily showers, so that even the parts that don’t really need to be cleaned get washed.
If you do the same for your baby, as well, things can tend to get really dry really fast.
If you do bathe your baby often, such as in the evenings as part of a soothing bedtime routine, it can be a good idea to include some moisturizing as part of the routine each time, as well.
Fragrance-free lotions for sensitive skin are probably the way to go here. I’d go ahead and talk to your doctor to get his or her best recommendations.
I tend to just purchase a big pack of fragrance-free lotion and use that after bath time for baby as well as on my own hands. Anything you buy that is labeled as specifically for babies has a tendency to be more expensive.
5 Petite Pearly Whites
If you started paving the way for good dental hygiene as soon as your baby arrived by rubbing his or her gums each day with a washcloth or an infant toothbrush, you’ll probably have an easier time getting in there to brush the teeth once they come in, as we mentioned earlier. There may be setbacks with various developmental stages and periods of teething, but at least you have your foot in the door.
This aside, I found that my toddler was always pretty excited about the idea of brushing her teeth because she knows that mommy does it, too. (“Just like mommy!”) Setting a good example might really help you out in this department.
When she became less than enthused to let us brush her teeth at one point, we even started doing a pretend buzzing sound with your mouths to mimic our own electric toothbrushes, which she greatly admires. Plus, I hear you can even get battery-powered toothbrushes for kids, too, if that’s what does the trick.
Consistency, starting early, and keeping it fun can help to avoid grand battles at bedtime.
4 Snot Their Fault
I’m one of the lucky few who didn’t have to send my babies to daycare at a young age, and through this I avoided a lot of colds, to be sure.
But an occasional stuffy nose, whether caused by allergies or a virus, is going to come along for any babe at some point. It can really be a mess, make nursing or eating go much less smoothly, and interrupt sleep to the extreme, so it’s good to have some tactics in your pocket for when the time comes to face the stuffy nose.
Talk to your doctor about what to do, first of all, but here are some tricks that may be tried: Saline drops can work wonders to loosen things up, I hear. And some parents swear by humidifiers that they keep running at night in their baby’s room. I know a steamy shower is often the only thing that gives me relief when my sinuses feel all clogged up (maybe spending some time in that steamy bathroom will help baby to feel better, as well).
3 Kids Has Claws
How in the world do baby fingernails and toenails grow so darn quickly? I don’t know, but grow, grow, and grow some more they do.
You may have been gifted at your shower or purchased yourself a sort of baby manicure kit, often including teeny-tiny baby nail clippers. Actually using these on a baby’s tender little nails can be next to impossible, though, and quite intimidating. Some parents claim to find success by doing it while the baby is sleeping. Some take a breath, grab a limb, and go for it, screaming be damned.
I tried a few different things. I read that biting the baby’s nails off can work pretty well and tried it, and it worked okay, actually. The nails tend to be pretty thin and easy to remove. I bet that’s the way mothers of yore did it, huh?
But my main approach turned out to be the file. I had my husband hover in front of us as I held baby on my lap and filed away, and sometimes had him sing and dance around a bit. As with many of the more difficult baby-related tasks, distraction is key.
2 Inevitable Pitfalls
Like we said above, babies don’t have smelly armpit sweat like we do; that won’t come until those wonder years known as puberty. This doesn’t mean, though, that a baby’s armpits don’t sometimes get pretty stinky.
Instead of the buildup of sweat being to blame, it’s often the buildup of moisture that causes things to start to smell sort of foul.
The truth is, it can be really hard to get in there. Babies, especially new ones, can tend to like to have their hands clenched and their limbs held pretty tightly against their warm little bodies. Because new babies don’t really need that much bathing and their arms are usually covered and held close against their chests or their sides, you may not even notice a stinky situation developing, and once you do, it can be hard to wipe it down, or a simple wipe-down with warm water might not quite do the trick.
Washing regularly once you can bathe the baby (once the umbilical cord stump falls off) and being sure to dry the area very well should help things to improve.
If things start to look red, raw, or rashy, consult with your doc, but a hydrocortisone cream can probably help.
1 Hey, Filthy Fingers
Once babies and toddlers are on the move -- especially once they are playing outside -- their fingernails can tend to collect quite a bit of dirt underneath.
Even bathing them regularly sometimes doesn’t quite do the trick of removing it. And you know what? It’s probably not really even that big of a deal. Nonetheless, here are my tricks to getting my toddler’s hands and fingernails to look and be clean.
It can be a pain to hoist her up to the sink so we can wash her hands together there, and she’s not quite old enough yet to climb up on a step-stool and do it all herself.
She’s sometimes open, though, to the idea of washing her own hair. When she gets to rub and scratch the shampoo around, it really gets her nails clean!
And here’s the other one: When we’re back indoors after a session of playing outside and her hands are looking particular filthy, I fill a large bowl with warm sudsy water made by squirting some hand soap in and filling it up under the kitchen faucet. I place the bowl on a kitchen chair that’s the perfect height for her to reach, and she plays and plays away, getting her hands clean as can be in the process. Score!
Sources: WebMD.com, BabyCenter.com, YouTube.com