Of all the things I worried about with having two kids close in age, being alone with them at the same time was top of the list. I had pictured a calm nightly bath as part of our bedtime routine—but bathing a baby and a toddler together seemed especially terrifying. Younger babies are still so floppy and slippery, and until they learn to sit up, they generally need two hands of support. Judging by all those sweet social media pics, other parents seem to manage double bath time just fine, but I seriously struggled. So what do you do when your splashy toddler needs a bath in order to wind down at night and your infant reeks of spit-up and countless up-the-back diaper explosions?
When I asked other parents about how they managed bathing an infant and a two- or three-year-old together, I was impressed by their resourcefulness and confidence in handling it. Some moms told me they bathed the baby in an insert in the bathroom sink while simultaneously watching the toddler in the tub. Some get into the bath with both kids. Others lean over the tub and hold their babies up the whole time. Some moms do hose-downs in the tub with the toddler sitting on a plastic stool and the baby in a bath seat.
Others, like Alison Sorbera, a Toronto mother of two and former live-in nanny, use a small baby bath placed inside the regular tub, submerged in enough water for the toddler to bathe outside of it.
“I would put the infant bathtub into the big bath and bathe them both at the same time. The trick is not to fill the big bathtub with so much water that the baby tub floats up and away,” says Sorbera.
But Janice Heard, a community paediatrician in Calgary and member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s (CPS) Public Education Advisory Committee, warns that those baby baths are designed to be used only on a dry, flat surface—never inside a larger tub of water.
In fact, experts such as Heard say that double baths can’t be done safely with only one parent present until your youngest is over six months and sitting on their own.
Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention, advises similar caution, because drowning, near drowning, and hot-water scalds are the leading causes of injury serious enough to require hospitalization for young children, says Stephanie Cowle, a safety expert with Parachute.
If you’re going to try anyway, Cowle says the safest position for the parent to maintain balance and react quickly is being outside of the tub on the dry, flat ground and leaning over to hold the baby with both hands while also keeping your focus on the toddler.
And even though you can find baby bath seats online and in stores, they are not approved as safety devices by Health Canada. If you’re going to use a baby bath seat to help hold your baby up, don’t rely on it, and never leave your baby unattended in one. The CPS also advises paediatricians to discourage the use of any infant bath seat or tub dam (this is a device that creates a partition in the tub, so you don’t have to fill up the whole basin).
“[These devices] give parents a false sense of security, and then parents don’t pay attention as well as they should,” says Heard. The use of infant bath seats (sometimes also called ring seats) has been linked to drowning deaths of infants in Canada when babies were out of their caregiver’s sight for only a few seconds—they slipped through the leg openings or they tried to climb out. The suction cups that many of these products have on the bottom can also loosen and cause the seat to tip over. “If you have one infant and you’re leaning over the bath and it’s a nice place to hold her, that’s fine. But not with another child in the tub. It’s too easy to be distracted and it’s too easy for something bad to happen,” says Heard.
Once your baby is sitting upright on their own (that’s usually between six and eight months), experts are more open to parents bathing two children together, but only in two to five centimetres of water to minimize the risk of drowning or near drowning, says Heard. Kids can still drown in seconds in as little as two and a half centimetres of water, so you still have to keep a constant eye on them and stay within arm’s reach. If you must leave the bathroom (even if it’s just to go grab a towel), you need to take both kids with you.
Heard’s other tips include putting the toddler into the tub first and taking them out last; having all your supplies at the ready and in the bathroom beforehand; pulling the plug as soon as you take the baby out; securing the baby in a bouncer seat on the bathroom floor after they’re out of the tub; and locking the bathroom door so your toddler can’t run off before you’re all ready to leave the room.
Lastly, to avoid hot-water scalds, the temperature should feel warm, not hot (38C max), and never add hot water to the tub if the kids are already in it. You can set your hot water heater to a maximum of 49C, which is actually part of the residential building code in many provinces. (That temp is hot enough to kill the bacteria in your pipes but not enough to inflict third-degree burns.) Faucet covers and anti-scald devices can also be helpful.
For me, the easiest thing was to avoid doing double bath time altogether, until my girls were a bit older. I had the luxury of waiting for my husband to get home in the evening to help, or I would make sure to bathe the baby when my toddler was off at daycare—both reasonable, safe solutions, too.
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