Baby health

Bath time, baby

We’ve got the answers to all of your baby-bathing questions

By Susan Spicer
Bath time, baby

Donna Connely has bathed hundreds of babies — and answered almost as many questions — as a nurse and clinical leader of development in the family newborn unit of IWK Hospital in Halifax. Here, she answers the most common concerns:

Bath time, baby

A sponge bath is just fine. Start with her swaddled in a blanket and wash her face and hair. Use plain water on her face, and a clean corner of a baby face-cloth to wipe from inside to outside of each eye. Holding the baby like a football, with your hand supporting her head and neck, wet her scalp. Use a tiny drop of shampoo to lather her hair. Rinse well and pat dry.

Now lay your baby down on a comfortable surface and unwrap her body. Wash her torso and back, her legs and feet, and finally her bottom. A girl’s genital area should be wiped from front to back. Wipe around a boy’s penis, but do not attempt to retract the foreskin. Dry your baby carefully, paying special attention to the creases. Dress her and wrap her warmly.

When can I try again with a full bath?

A baby’s temperature mechanism stabilizes within a week or two after birth, says Connely, which means the baby will be less upset by being undressed and exposed to the cool air. Be assured that most babies come to love the bath. In a few months, you may have trouble getting her out of the tub.

My baby is so slippery! How can I hold him safely in the bath?

Try putting a small towel in the bottom of the basin or bathtub so that the surface is less slippery. Fill the tub only to a depth of two or three inches so that baby’s bum rests on the bottom while you bathe him. Run one hand behind his head to support the head and neck, and wrap your hand around his armpit and shoulder. The other hand goes between his legs under his bottom. Now gently lower him into the water. Give him a moment to get used to the water, and then slowly remove your bottom hand. Use it to wash your baby.


Remember: The only way to keep a baby under a year safe is to keep a hand on him at all times. NEVER leave him unsupervised in a tub — even for a moment.

How often should we bathe the baby?

Wash her face, hands and bottom every day. Two or three times a week is fine for a full body bath, once or twice a week for the hair. As babies grow, chances are they’ll love the chance to splash in the water, and a warm bath is a great way to wind down for bed. An older baby who’s more active may need a daily bath, depending on how dirty she gets.

My baby still has a cord stump. Can I give him a bath?

Yes, says Connely. It’s not necessary to avoid submerging the cord and you don’t need to apply anything to it. Simply pat it dry. Keep the diaper clear of the cord, so that it dries up and falls off sooner.


Skin to skin

After your baby’s bath is a wonderful opportunity for some skin-to-skin time. Before you dress your baby, lay him against your bare chest with a blanket over his back, suggests registered nurse Donna Connely. “This is a great way to help him stabilize his body temperature, and it’s very comforting.”

Can I use this nice-smelling lotion on my baby?

A baby's skin is very sensitive, so avoid any products with fragrance, which can be irritating, says Connely. Powders should not be used because they can irritate baby’s respiratory system.

How hot should the water be?


Use your elbow (rather than your hand) to make sure the water is warm, not hot. In the past, families were often told to set their water-tank thermostat at 49°C, but the Canada Safety Council now recommends a temperature no lower than 54°C, which is hot enough to prevent bacterial growth. Hot water is a scalding risk, especially for babies because their skin is so delicate. Never turn on the hot-water tap while your child is in the tub.

When can she go into the big tub?

According to the Canada Safety Council, a baby bathtub is appropriate until about four months, at which point the baby can go into a regular tub. They advise against using bath seats, but a non-slip mat placed in the tub is recommended.

This article was originally published on Oct 23, 2011

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