Your baby's first bath is a real milestone. But when to give it, not to mention how and where, are questions every new parent has. Cleaning a slippery, squirming — and sometimes screaming — infant takes practice. So relax; it will get easier every time, and your baby will soon come to love splashing in the water. In this section, we answer your basic bath questions, and offer tips to help make bath time fun, safe, and easy for both of you.
When to Bathe: The Dirt on Dirty
How often you need to bathe your baby depends a lot on how old your baby is. For a newborn, two or three times a week is probably enough, as long as you keep her diaper area well-cleaned and wash her hands and face several times a day. Unless they've spit up or soiled themselves, newborns just don't get that dirty.
The older your baby is, the more regular bathing she'll need, particularly after she's started crawling and eating her first foods. By the time your baby's a toddler, you'll need to give her a bath almost every night — if not to wash off a busy day's worth of grime, then at least to help calm her down before bedtime.
When's the best time to give a bath? In general, it's better to bathe your newborn before mealtime, if she's not too hungry. Too soon after eating and she may spit up. For older babies, a bath before bedtime works best, since it cleans them up for the night and helps soothe them. You might want to develop this evening routine: a bath, reading a story, then bedtime. But use your best judgment and give your baby a bath anytime she needs one.
How to Bathe: To Sponge or Not to Sponge?
Before your baby's umbilical cord stump falls off (between 10 days and three weeks after birth), it's best to sponge-bathe her to avoid getting the cord stump wet. Here's how:
The Big Bath
Once the cord stump has fallen off, your baby is ready for a real bath in the sink or a baby tub. Whichever you use, pad the bottom with a towel to make it softer. You also might want to have a partner nearby to help you hold on to your slippery little one. Assemble everything you'll need beforehand so you won't have to scramble during the bath. Here's a sample list:
Although soap is listed above, often you do not need to use soap on your infant, as most of the debris that accumulates is cleaned with water alone. Soap can remove your baby's natural moisturizers and dry her skin.
You'll only need about 2 inches of warm water to give your baby an effective bath. Try placing a warm washcloth over her belly to keep her from getting chilled. These early baths don't need to be long or involved, but they do need to get the job done. Hold your baby firmly and gently wash away any debris or loose skin that's accumulated. Always keep one hand on her while she's in the bath. This is obvious when she's a newborn, and you'll have to cradle her head and back as you wash her. But it also applies to older babies who can sit up by themselves. As you wash her, pay particular attention to:
Newborns may not get very dirty, but they do accumulate dirt in places you might not expect. Make sure to check:
Not every baby is blessed with a full head of hair at birth, but if your baby was, wash it with a gentle no-tears baby shampoo as needed. Simply apply a dab of shampoo to her hair, gently massage it in, and let it sit for a short while before rinsing it out. Wash your baby's hair last so she doesn't have to sit in soapy water.
Finally, don't be surprised if your baby cries during her first few baths. She's just reacting to an unfamiliar sensation. Keep the room temperature warm and the bath water comfortable (see information on water temperature below), and soothe her by caressing and singing to her. She'll soon learn to love bath time.
While bathing your baby can be a lot of fun, you need to keep two safety issues in mind: water temperature and never leaving your baby alone.
Too Hot to Handle
Your baby's skin is more sensitive than yours. As a result, bath water that feels comfortable to you will be too hot for her. Before you put your baby anywhere near the water, test it with the back of your wrist or your elbow: These areas are more sensitive to heat than your hand. The water should feel warm —but not hot! Some other tips to consider:
The single most important thing to remember when giving your baby a bath is to never leave your baby alone. Not even for a few seconds. Babies can drown in as little as 1 inch of water —and in the time it takes you to answer the doorbell or phone. Don't take the chance. If you must attend to something while bathing your baby, always wrap her up and take her with you.