One of the joys of caring for a baby is bathing them. But for many parents, bathing is one of those tasks which takes time to build confidence and not feel nerves taking over. Be patient and kind with yourself as you learn what’s involved.
Reasons for bathing
- It’s a way of building emotional connection between parents and their baby.
- Distraction and keeping the baby occupied
- As a way of cooling off. It’s fine to bath your baby a couple of times a day in the hot months.
- After your baby has eaten and they’ve made a mess.
When bathing your baby think about
Ways you can both enjoy it. Bathing is a lovely way for partners to be directly involved in their baby’s care, especially for fathers whose baby is being breastfed. How to communicate with your baby and help them to feel safe. Bathing as an activity which is more than simply getting your baby clean. And importantly, ways to help your baby to feel safe and secure.
What we know to be true about baby bathing
- Most babies love their baths. Some just take a little longer to find that out.
- The best time to bath a baby is when they’re calm, happy and not hungry.
- There is no one ‘right’ way to bath a baby as long as it’s done safely and with love.
- It helps for parents to set up everything they’ll need.
Safety aspects of baby bathing
- Fill the bath with cold water first and then hot. If you get called away there’s less risk of your baby being burned.
- Never leave your baby unattended in the bath. Take them with you if you need to leave the room.
- Don’t bath your baby if you’re really tired, have drunk alcohol or are taking medication which affects your alertness.
- Make sure the baby bath is on a firm, flat surface.
- Keep your baby’s head and face well clear of the bath water.
- If you’re going to shower or bath with your baby, make sure you minimise the risk of slipping. Ask your partner to bring the baby to you once you’re in the shower or bath.
- Don’t share bath towels and washers with your baby. It’s important for everyone in the family to have their own.
- Never leave your baby to be supervised by an older child. This is just too much responsibility.
- Don’t use baby powder on your baby. This can collect in the creases of their skin and they could inhale the fine particles of talc into their lungs.
What you’ll need to bath your baby
- A baby bath.
- At least one clean towel and washer.
- Some sort of baby wash or soap. Choose one which has a pH similar to baby’s skin e.g. 6.3-7.5.
- Choose a baby wash or soap which is free from parabens, strong fragrance, alcohol or preservatives.
- At least one clean nappy. Babies have a tendency to wee or poo the minute they have a clean nappy put on.
- Clean clothing.
- A baby hairbrush. Not essential, but if your baby has hair it can turn a bad hair day into something pretty special.
- Some nappy rash cream if your baby needs it.
- Moisturiser or oil if your baby’s skin is dry.
How to bath a baby
- Fill the bathtub or basin with water. Check the temperature so it’s comfortably warm.
- Undress your baby so they’ve only got their nappy on. Wrap them securely in a towel.
- Wash their face using a washer or cotton balls dipped in plain water and then dry with a towel. Avoid using soap or baby wash on their face.
- Take their nappy off and lower them gently into the bath.
- Use baby wash or shampoo to wash their hair. Cradle cap can form when there is a buildup of sebum (oil) and skin cells on the baby's scalp. In the same way that adults need their hair and scalp washed regularly, babies need this too.
- Rinse their hair with bath water.
- Dissolve some baby wash in the water. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about how much to use. Bear in mind, babies don’t get dirty, just a little will do.
- Use the washer to gently wipe the skin folds in their neck, armpits, groin and limbs.
- Let your baby kick and move around in the bath.
- Talk to your baby and play little games. Remember, bath time can be lots of fun.
- Make sure you’re holding your baby securely. If you’re right handed, support their head and neck along your left forearm and, if you’re left handed, use your right hand and arm to support their head and neck out of the water.
- Once you feel your baby is clean and has lost interest, lift them gently out of the bath and dry them with a clean towel.
- Dress your baby in clean clothing.
If your baby cries when they’re being bathed
- Try filling the bath with water which is deep enough for their bottom to float up off the bottom of the bath.
- Make sure the water is comfortably warm, not cold and not hot either.
- Place a warm, wet washer over their tummy. Some babies protest because they feel exposed.
- Talk gently to your baby and make sure they can see your face up close.
- Be gentle and take things slowly. There’s no rush.
Think about your own feelings when you’re bathing your baby. If you project a sense of confidence and calmness, your baby is more likely to feel secure.
But I’m scared of bathing my baby!
- Many new parents feel nervous about bathing their baby. But like most skills, with time and practice, it really does get easier.
- Use a bath thermometer to check the temperature of the water if you’re concerned. The ideal temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius.
- Ask another trusted person to help you.
- Pick a time of the day when you’re more likely to feel calm.
- If you’re nervous about your baby slipping under the water, place a towel on the bottom of the bath for them to lie on. This will help to provide traction and reduce the risk of them moving around so much.
- Pick a time when you are feeling calm and your baby isn’t crying or due for a feed.
- Remember, you can’t make mistakes when bathing your baby. As long as you keep their face out of the water, you’ll do just fine.
- Put some relaxation music on so you’ve got something else to focus on.
How often should I bath my baby?
Ideally, bath your baby daily. If you’re busy or you’re worried they’ll get cold, there’s no harm in putting it off for a day or two. Bathing isn’t just for keeping your baby clean, it’s a good way to settle and calm a fractious baby as well.
Written for Nourish by Jane Barry Midwife and Child Health Nurse.
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