First-time parents may wonder if baby needs a bath every day or every other day. “How often you bathe your baby is up to you, but daily baths really aren’t necessary,” says Karen Benzies, a parenting expert and professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary. “You can keep their face, hands and bottoms clean in between baths by using a warm cloth every day.” And you don’t have to wait for her umbilical stump to fall off to introduce tub time. As long as you thoroughly pat it dry after she comes out of the water, this won’t interfere with healing, says Benzies. Some new moms are more comfortable substituting a sponge bath for the first week or so, but when you’re ready for baby’s first real bath, here’s how to make it a successful experience:
1. Pick a good moment
Choose a time when you’re both relaxed to introduce her to the bath. Babies are really good at picking up on stress, says Benzies. This could be morning, afternoon or night, as long as you’re both up to the task. Once you find a time that works for you, turning it into a routine can be comforting for baby and even ease her off to dreamland. “Right before bedtime has always been perfect in my experience,” says Lauren Ballem, mom to 10-month-old Orson and four-year-old Beatrice.
2. Be prepared
Line up all of your supplies, including a washcloth, baby soap (if desired), a clean towel, diaper, barrier cream and clothes. everything should be within arm’s reach. It’s important to keep your eyes and at least one hand on your baby at all times, Benzies says. Remember that just a little bit of water can be dangerous if your infant somehow manages to flip over. If you’re not using a baby tub, place a clean towel in the bottom of your bathtub, bathroom sink or kitchen sink (thoroughly cleaned and rinsed ahead of time). This will give you some traction so she doesn’t slip. Then add two to three inches of tepid water. Use your elbow — which is more sensitive than your hand — to test the temperature.
3 Ease baby into the bath
Bring her over to the bath area, remove her clothes and diaper, and gently lower her into the water using one arm to hold her up. “It can be nerve-wracking to do this alone, so I’ve always found it helpful to have my husband there for support,” says Sarah Lalonde, mom to three-month-old Aurora and four-year-old Julian.
Ask your partner to hold the baby while you wash her down, or vice versa, at least until you get used to the routine. Use the cloth to wash her from top to bottom, starting with her face, ears and around her eyes, then move the cloth down her torso and legs, finishing with her bum.
4. Move quickly and efficiently
Newborns don’t have much body fat and can get cold easily. If she looks too cold, soils the water, or is crying non-stop, simply cut the bath short, or try singing a song or showing her a toy to distract her while you finish up. “You’ll hate to see such a teeny-tiny baby cry, but don’t get freaked out,” says Ballem. “It’s just a little water and they do need to be washed.”
5. Dry carefully
When you’re finished, dry her carefully, making sure you get into all of the little folds of skin to prevent rashes and irritation. “Newborns don’t need a body lotion, but if you choose to use one, make sure it’s hypoallergenic and designed for babies,” says Benzies.
A version of this article appeared in our November 2012 issue with the headline “Bath basics,” page 84.
Is your baby ready for her first bath? Check out this video for more info: