That first time can be quite intimidating…
A newborn can seem – and be – so fragile! What if she gets too cold? What if the water is too hot? And how, for the love of all things tiny, is a mom supposed to hold onto that soft, slippery body, so ready to flop over and so in need of support?
True story for you: When I was pregnant with my first baby (of two total babies that I’ve had so far) a few years back now, my husband and I signed up for a class that was popular in our community geared toward first-time parents and intended to teach them the basics of taking care of a baby.
We eagerly attended along with some of the other parents from our childbirth classes.
I don’t know how much we actually learned – you can read about how to take care of a baby in books and even online. But there was something reassuring about just being there, and especially about hearing some of that info from real, live parents who had actually done the whole baby thing before.
And the most popular part of the class – the most highly anticipated – which brought about gasps, excitement, and smiles galore from the pregnant ladies and their partners, was the demonstration in which a mom came in and gave a bath to a real, live baby.
If she could do it, surely we could, too.
And boy, have we.
Two babies and a handful of years later, and it’s funny to look back at the extreme caution and intensity with which we approached those first few full-body washes.
And so I will share with you now, based on the hundreds and hundreds of baths I’ve now given, 15 things moms should remember when putting the baby in the tub.
15 In The Hood
So much of a baby’s bath can be about two things. Thing the first? Routine. And thing the second? Preparation.
It might sound silly, but once those clothes are off and your little love is in the wet stuff, there’s not really any going back, just bravely and boldly forward.
Once you are used to your own preferred process and routine and both you and your child are pretty comfortable with the whole concept of baby bath time, you’ll probably be able to run through the motions just as easily, or almost, as you carry out your own cleansing routine in the shower or, say, apply your makeup each morning.
But at first, it’s quite understandable that it might be a little intimidating.
And how do you boldly face new tasks, even slightly scary ones? Why, preparation, of course.
Gathering the items you will need – all of them – before you remove the baby’s clothes and begin the bath at all makes all the difference.
One of the most important items, I think, is a clean and dry towel.
While any household towel would surely do, I really am a huge fan of those hooded baby towels, at least for the first year or two.
They are smaller, easier to manage with one hand, and have hoods that not only help to keep them on the baby (and keep the baby warm by keeping in body heat around the head) but also look pretty adorable.
14 Test That Temp!
I have a very distinct memory from when I was still a very, very small child. You know those ones that don’t seem like they should necessarily be particularly memorable but just really stick with you for whatever reason?
My guess is that what had happened was that I had reached out my little finger or foot toward the tub before my dad had made sure that the water coming out of the faucet wasn’t too hot, and he suddenly took a memorably serious tone, teaching me an important life lesson as he spoke.
Always test the water to be sure that it’s not too hot first.
Burns and scalding are very real dangers.
Plus, you want the water to be comfortable for a baby, not overwhelmingly hot.
During the same class I mentioned earlier, in which expectant parents learned the basics of taking care of a baby, we were even offered little cards with temperature indicators. These could be dipped in the tub to see if the water was within a safe temperature range.
While it was reassuring to have such a tool in the drawer, I don’t think we actually really ever ended up using it. But we did remember to always – ALWAYS – feel the water carefully before putting a baby into it.
13 The Order Of Operations
I distinctly remember YouTubing this one when I was expecting my first baby a few years ago. I needed to know, like, how to go about the whole bath thing.
Where do you start? Where do you finish? How do you do it?
I realized that a lot of the advice I found at that time was about having a clear plan, an order of operations to follow that made sense for practical reasons and for the hygiene of the baby.
It might not be dissimilar to the order in which you watch yourself when you bathe or shower, in fact.
For sure check with your own pediatrician for advice in watching after the health and hygiene of your own children as needed, but we tend to work something like this…
We actually have two little ones these days, and we are – believe it or not – at a level of comfort and short enough on time that we give them both a bath at the same time.
It’s everybody into the tub (after that water temp is tested…), getting wet with the clean water, and then working our way down.
The faces are wiped clean with soft baby wash clothes (just water, no soap). The hair is washed as needed, and rinsed carefully to avoid getting any suds in those sensitive little eyes. Then it’s on to bodies and bums and feet – and that’s a wrap. (I’ve heard of folks leaving the hair ’til last.)
Except for my little ones absolutely love bath time these days and insist on having some extra time to play and soak, and that’s just fun for everyone.
12 A Wonderful Wash
Two of the, I think, three pediatricians my babies have ever seen, including while in the hospital, made sure to mention using a baby wash that was free of soap.
Special baby washes can be important to avoid irritation or overly drying a baby’s sensitive skin.
And my theory is that the baby wash companies really know what they’re doing, getting you to just try one kind so that if you realize that it works well for your baby without causing any irritation for him or her, you’ll be scared to use anything else and continue to buy the same one for, like, years.
But I digress.
And that’s pretty much exactly what we did.
I made sure to buy a mid-size bottle of the popular brand to have at the ready for when we needed it, and I now rely on the stuff for daily use (and not to mention, I am totally hooked on that subtly sweet fragrance that so often wafts from my little ones’ soft little heads… mmmm… baby smell…).
Again, check with your child’s doctor as needed for which products to use – or not – with your own child, but in my experience, when it comes to babies, gentler and freer of extra and unneeded ingredients can tend to be better. (But the crazy expensive ones aren’t really necessary, either.)
11 Have A Helper
A baby is so small – it might seem sort of funny to think that it might take two grown adults to wash that little body.
But for the first time or handful of times, even, having a sort of support person or helper there can really just be nice.
One person can get the tub and supplies ready while the other undresses the baby – and the bath can then get started and in process before the water gets too chilled (more on that later).
The big one, I think, is that one parent can get the baby out of the water while the other gets the towel ready to receive him or her.
Maybe it’s even just that there is someone there for reassurance, or just in case you forgot to grab a washcloth or you feel like you can’t get a safe hold on the little one – while supporting them adequately and while rinsing shampoo out of their hair without getting it in their eyes.
Like I said, with a little time and plenty of practice, it will probably be no sweat each and every time.
But there can definitely be a sort of intimidation factor with the whole process at first, and that’s OK.
10 Tools Of The Trade
There are surely products out there that might be purchased quite easily to do it.
There are also plastic cups or old containers you might already have around your household.
And, then, there’s what my family of four calls “The Dumper,” which is the small plastic water pitcher I was given in the hospital that we took home with us and now use to rinse our babies at bath time.
The whole point is that you kind of need something to be able to scoop up clean water and pour it over a baby’s head and body in order to rinse off the suds (or dirt… or sunscreen… or peanut butter… or… you get the picture).
So I’d say, remember to grab this before you get started. And remember to have something on hand by the time your baby is of the age that he or she requires somewhat regular baths.
With my first baby, we used a little bath toy that could hold a couple ounces of water, or wrung out a washcloth to use the water that then dripped from it for rinsing.
All of this was alright, I suppose, although once I realized that I could just use a bigger container that still allowed me to somewhat carefully aim the flow of water, I decided that this was indeed the way to go.
You just can’t necessarily dunk a baby in the tub of water or rinse them off with a showerhead the way you might yourself, so a tool such as this makes things easier.
9 Hands-On Always
No, I don’t suggest that moms and dads approach the whole issue of baby bath time with fear. I know from my own experiences and talking to other new parents that the whole thing can be intimidating enough already.
But when there’s water around, and a child, there is the danger of drowning, and that is probably something that should never, ever be forgotten.
That’s why you need to have one hand on your newborn at all times.
They can easily slip and bonk their little heads or go underwater. It’s something that you, of course, will want to avoid by taking all of the necessary precautions.
It can be pretty tricky.
You might be leaning at a super awkward angle, and trying to hold the baby up with one hand while actually carrying out the necessary washing and rinsing with the other. It can seem a nearly impossible feat at first, to be sure.
But, believe it or not, you’ll probably get the hang of it in no time, just like I did and just like my husband did.
Practice makes perfect!
And if you’re not comfortable approaching all this alone, again, enlist the help of your partner or someone else for those first few go-rounds.
8 Don’t Overdo It
Please do consult with your own child’s pediatrician for any needed advice on how to cleanse and generally care for them, ’cause, duh…
But what I’ve personally been told is that you really don’t need to overdo it.
In our culture, we (and our clothes and homes and so on) are probably cleaner and more sterilized than we would ever really actually need to be.
It’s a habit that we become accustomed to quite early on in life in many cases and have trouble letting go of… unless we, say, move to a country where such luxuries as abundant clean water and so on are not available…
The point of all this, though, is that a baby doesn’t really get all that dirty. Washing little ones too much will only take away the skin’s natural oils.
My own children’s pediatrician did recommend including a nightly bath as part of a soothing bedtime routine. It works for us, and so it’s what we’ve gone with.
I know parents who go with every other day, as well as moms and dads who don’t really keep track and just sort of wash the kids whenever there’s time and it happens to work out.
We only wash hair when it actually needs it, and generally try to keep in mind that we don’t need to worry too much about the full-body washing and scrubbing; it’s more about the nice experience.
7 All Eyes On Baby
Well, it only takes one time for something disastrous to happen, and so around things like water (and fire… and electricity… and cars…) adequate caution – always – is a must.
I have two toddlers in my house, and so I know. I understand why the printouts provided after each standard pediatric checkup include warnings about these dangers (oh, and choking hazards, by the way).
It’s often as simple as just using your eyes and paying adequate attention.
And in the case of baby’s bath time, it means never leaving a child unattended in or near water.
It only takes a little bit of water to present a drowning hazard.
I’m not one to go for drama or shock and awe when it comes to this type of stuff, but this one is really pretty serious.
You can’t run to answer your phone or see who’s at the door. You can’t leave the bathroom to go get the towel or toy or washcloth that you forgot. You have to be there with your eyes on your little one, and if they are rather young, actually supporting them in the water, most likely.
If you can’t give your undevoted attention to baby bath time, then it’s not something you should currently be doing, if you ask me.
6 Tempting Toys
Okay, so the first few times were maybe a little like whaaaat? for my young babies getting used to taking a short bath.
But after that, they very quickly grew to LOVE it.
I know from talking to many other parents in my life that this is absolutely not the case for all kids.
Some of them fight it.
Heck, I hear my neighbors kids throwing fits half the time that bath time occurs (but I think that might be because they get home pretty late at night long after most young kids I know are in bed and so they might be overly tired… but that’s another story).
What I’m trying to get at is that I know that some kids need a distraction.
After a handful of years under my belt as a mom, I know that this is a lesson that may apply perfectly throughout your mom-tastic day: meal time, the doctor’s office, the car, the grocery store, ending that meltdown at the park or in the stroller… Distraction is your friend.
When it comes to bath time, it might be as simple as giving them a second washcloth to hold or chew on so you can actually wash them with the one you’re holding. Maybe it’s a silly little plastic toy (hey, the rubber ducky is a classic for a reason…).
Those same neighbors I’ve mentioned earlier have been known to sing songs, as I recall.
5 Moisturizing On The Mind
I’ve always been told – and found that it works well for my own skin – to moisturize right after getting out of the bath or shower, even before the skin has had a chance to completely dry.
Health and skincare sites say the same. SheKnows.com, for example, instructs to “Shorten your shower and use lukewarm -- not hot -- water. Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it with a towel, and apply moisturizer immediately while your skin is still damp” in order to avoid dry skin.
And you may have guessed where I’m going with this… The same goes for babies – maybe even more so, as some tots have extremely sensitive skin (and they don’t tend to be nearly as oily as adults, either).
This is why I apply fragrance-free lotion intended for sensitive skin to my little ones right after they get out of the bath and after they’ve just been toweled off enough that they aren’t actually wet anymore.
Surely some of it is just genetics, but they’ve never really had any issues with dryness or skin irritations, so it seems like it’s working out.
One tip I’d like to be sure to mention, as well (to expectant or new parents who are surely realizing how expensive even the basic life stuff you need for babies and kids can be), is that
I do not personally choose to pay more for the moisturizers specifically marketed as being for babies.
The big pack from Costco (bulk warehouse store) of sensitive-skin lotion has worked just fine.
Remember to have it at the ready before you even put the bay in the tub (along with clothing to wear afterward) if you intend to use it.
4 Right-On Routine
Let’s get back to the whole timing and routine thing.
Because most babies don’t actually get so dirty that they need a full-body washing every day, the bath can be more of a nice tool at your disposal in this modern life. (Or, again, perhaps you choose to only bathe your child somewhat occasionally, when they actually seem to need it. Water is an overused natural resource, to be sure!)
So if babies don’t necessarily need full baths every day, or every few days, why not use the bath as a calming or just nicely predictable part of your child’s day?
Some parents observe that their kids get kind of riled up by the fun of bath time or don’t sleep that well after getting warmer in that tubby water, so they do bath time at some time that is NOT right before bed.
Others, though, such as my family, find that it does work well to wash off the remnants of dinner, sand from the park, and watercolors from art time – basically everything that hasn’t been caught during the day by a wipe-down or hand wash – as a regular step toward getting ready for bed.
Routine is soothing to babies (humans?). Mine and others I know like knowing what to expect and when.
My one-year-old even knows that it’s coming shortly after dinner and requests it. She can’t wait to get upstairs and into that tub!
3 That Tiny Tub
Parents are marketed alllll kinds of crap that they will supposedly need to take care of their brand-new tiny humans. It can be hard to tell what is really a necessity (or extreme nicety, even) and what is just sort of extra or fluff – until you’ve actually lived it.
I’ve made it through babyhood and into the toddler times with two kids so far, and I am definitely very glad that we sprung the, what, $20 - $40 dollars… to get a specialized baby bathtub.
The feature I enjoyed the most, which isn’t included if you just wash your tot in the kitchen sink or something, was a little hammock sort of deal, a waterproofed fabric and mesh sling that you could hook across the little plastic tub for use with your newborn.
Before my babies could sit or rest safely in the actual tub, they were happy to be dipping down slightly into the water with their heads nicely propped well above it. It was awesome!
As a baby, I was personally washed in a large, stainless-steel kitchen prep bowl that my mom later used to make huge batches of caramel corn for our birthday parties, or so I’m told.
So, clearly, there’s a way to make just about anything work.
But especially for like those first 6 months, a special baby tub can be well worth the small expense, in my book.
2 Just Dive Right In
Really a lot of the awkwardness at first, I think, is the positioning. Maybe you’re leaning over the big bath tub in your house with the little baby tub within it, or even trying to use water from the sink as you hold onto your tot within the tiny tub placed on the bathroom counter.
It can be a lot.
With my first baby, I didn’t understand how it would really be possible – yet – to use the little baby bathtub within the actual tub in our bathroom. I just wasn’t comfortable with it.
And so I – no joke – filled up the little plastic tub a few cups at a time, making trip after trip. This required me to get the water temp just right so that it was warm enough when I was filling it that it wouldn’t be cold by the time it was filled all the way and yet of course also not too hot.
I then had to find a way to get the tub off the bedroom floor and to the bathroom to drain it.
And don’t even get me started on the time I forgot to make sure the little plug in the bottom was stopped up… Man, that was one wet patch of carpet…
The thing is, it can be a lot. It can be overwhelming, whether you’re leaning over the edge of the tub or doing something a bit more kooky like I did.
So it can be much more relaxing for everyone if you sometimes just get in the tub and hold your baby to do the bath that way.
For a while before my second was born, I joined my first baby for a nightly bath. It’s great!
A helper may be required when it’s time to do the washing or get out of the tub, though.
1 Work Fast
Things can get intense once the bath has begun.
Whether the baby is diggin’ it or not, they can be squirmy. That’s just sort of the nature of babies, it seems.
I remember it clearly.
It’s like once you have that little person naked and in the water, it’s go time. They might be crying or kicking.
Water might be flying in places you really wish that it wasn’t.
Your focus has to be on keeping the baby safe and getting the job done.
Basically, I’m saying that I think one of my best and most honest tips as an experienced baby bather is to just work quickly and get it over with.
One very practical reason for this is that water can cool off quickly and it’s easy for a baby to get chilled. No one wants that.
Plus, with newborns, especially, you only have a pretty small window before the next time that a feeding or poop or nap is absolutely necessary, so you have to work within the timespan that you have.
Gather your supplies, be bold, and go for it – while taking all the necessary precautions, of course.
And know that it only gets easier (and, likely, more fun) with time.
Happy tubby time!