Another memorable experience to parents in the long journey of caring for their newborn is cleaning the baby, which can be either a fun experience or one that parents find daunting. A first bath for baby becomes a major milestone for parents, but it comes with many uncertainties. With so many bathing options out there, as well as advice on best practices, it can quickly become very overwhelming. The hope here is to put some of that to rest.
First and foremost, it is best to keep in mind that a bath should become a pleasant experience, even if in the beginning the baby may appear not to like it all that much. It is a chance for the baby to bond with its parents as this is a task that can be performed by either parent. In some situations, if a mother is breastfeeding, this is something that can be left for the dad to do so that he too can be as involved as possible.
Babies tend to feel safer in the arms of their dad which is what helps the two of them bond. Dad can make bath time as additional time that he gets to spend with the baby, especially if the dad is the one that is working outside of the home mostly.
Top and Tail
Topping and tailing refer to washing the baby’s head, neck, hands, and bottom. Most of the time it is a process that is employed when the baby’s umbilical cord has not fallen off and parents do not want to submerge the baby in water to give it a bath.
Some parents also choose to continue this process in between baths as baby’s do not require baths as many times throughout the week as an adult. Since baby’s do not move around as much, and therefore, do not sweat as much, unless necessary for others reason (such as a really bad diaper) on average babies get baths around two to three times in a week. There are some simple steps for this process:
1. Before starting to undress the baby, make sure that you have everything in hand such as a clean diaper, clothes, a towel, a soft cotton rag for washing, and that the room is sufficiently warm.
2. Only a small bowl of water is needed for this process. The water should not be too hot or too cold. If need be, check the water temperature with your elbow as it is a good indicator of how the baby will feel the temperature of the water.
3. After the baby is undressed, it is best to leave the baby on top of a soft towel so that she can be dried right away and kept from getting too cold.
4. Dampening the soft cotton rag, begin with the face using soft and gentle touches, working your way down, and covering the baby as you go.
5. Some parents decide to use gentle baby soap on the genitals and bottom to ensure thorough cleanliness from any poop that the baby may have done.
6. Once you consider the baby to be cleaned, she can be placed back into a diaper and the chosen outfit to keep warm.
The directions above can be used as a general guideline and may be adjusted based on the needs of the situation or the baby. Parents will find that this process will become intuitive with practice.
Technically, a baby’s first bath would be given at the hospital by the nurse, who can also show how the process is done having had many years of practice. Each hospital has different practices when it comes to a first bath, so it is best to ask ahead of time in case you would like to do something different.
In some hospitals, a first bath for baby is given as soon as possible since the baby is coated in different fluids upon entry into the world. However, there are parents that have been choosing to delay that bath at the hospital for up to 48 hours. This decision is made based on the recommendation of doctors who have provided the following information.
• Reduces the risk of infection: this is because delaying the bath leaves the baby covered in what is called vernix in which they are born. Vernix is a white substance that is made up of skin cells which the baby made while they were developing in utero and this coating actually works as an antibiotic ointment, warding off bacteria.
• Assists in stabilizing blood sugar: when the baby is cut off from the placenta, it loses that which had stabilized their blood sugar all of that time. When placed in a bath, babies tend to get stressed which causes the release of hormones which cause blood sugar to drop, a dangerous thing in an infant.
• Helps with temperature control: in some instances, bathing the baby soon causes the baby to go into hypothermia because they are unable to control their own body temperature when they are born. This is also why babies are kept bundled up or under heat lamps in the hospital.
• Improved bonding and breastfeeding: studies have shown that babies tend to do better with bonding and breastfeeding when they are allowed to stay with their mother without the intervention of medical procedures. In a hospital, a bath would also be called a medical procedure, and it is one that can wait for those precious first hours.
• Moisturizer: vernix works like a natural moisturizer for the skin. Bathing the baby will only remove that moisturizer and it cannot be substituted with anything else.
• Parent special time: by allowing the mother to recover from her ordeal, she is able to participate in that special time between the baby and caregiver. If she would like this to take place at the hospital, the nurse is also there to assist and provide guidance.
The bath that is given to a baby in the hospital as a first bath, will not necessarily appear the same as it does at home. This type of bath is usually what has been described above as a top and tail. Since the baby’s umbilical stump still remains attached, the baby cannot be submerged. This also allows the parents to have that special first bath at home if this is not something that they were able to participate in at the hospital.
The first bath at home has become almost a rite of passage, a big milestone for a baby, the moment that parents feel their baby is ready. There are no right answers as to when the baby may be ready, but most parents look for at least the umbilical cord to fall off to ensure that it does not get submerged in water.
The biggest decision with giving the baby a bath is whereas the options would include a baby bath (if one was purchased), a regular bath, or the sink. Either will be perfectly adequate, it will all just depend on what works best for the family. For parents who have a small space, purchasing a baby bathtub may not be a feasible option, and there is nothing wrong with that.
In those instances, it is best to stick to the bathtub or sink. In some cases, a parent can also give the baby a shower, by showering right along with them. A bath can be given to the baby by itself in the big tub, using small amounts of water, or by taking a bath with the baby. A bath can be a scary experience for a baby in the beginning and taking a bath with a parent could be a soothing experience.
However, for the parents that decided they would feel more comfortable with a baby bathtub, there are different options to consider:
• Bathtubs that work as sink inserts. They are usually flexible and fit into most standard-sized sinks. Since they go into a sink, they are perfectly at the height for a standing adult and does not require leaning over.
• Standard tubs are standalone bathtubs made to fit children of various sizes and can be placed on the ground or a table or counter.
• Convertible tubs which are standalone tubs that have the ability to convert from newborn to toddler use.
• Hammock bathtubs are just that, regular standalone bathtubs that come with a mesh hammock for babies that are unable to support themselves.
• The inflatable tub is a space saver as it is blown up with air like an outdoor small pool.
• A fold-up tub is also a space saver like the inflatable tub. It is usually a hard tub, but it folds for easy storage. Most of these tubs can also be used from the newborn stage through toddlerhood.
• A bucket tub is a plastic bin that resembles more of a bucket than it does a bathtub, but it is designed to hold the baby in an upright position, much like a sink could.
There is no right answer when it comes to choosing the right tub and it is something that can be held off until the baby has arrived since a baby does not get a bath the moment that they are home. One can go as fancy or as simple as they feel like, or not purchase one at all.
When moving forward with actually making the purchase, if, at all possible, it’s best to research the different types of tubs and how they work, even asking others for testimonials on their tubs. This may help in narrowing down which of the tubs mentioned above would meet the needs of the family and the baby specifically.
Once the desired area is chosen, the essentials for a bath are much the same as they are for a top and tail. The items that are most needed are a change of diaper, clothes, towel, soft rag to wash baby with, and gentle baby soap. Again, it is best to ensure that the area the baby is bathed in is a warm one to prevent any colds.
Whether the baby is using its own bathtub, a regular bathtub, or the sink, there needs to be no more than around two inches of water. This will be enough water to ensure that the baby is kept warm throughout the experience, but not enough that they may become fully submerged on their own. Some simple tips can be provided for a good bathing experience:
• Gather all of your things in the area chosen for changing baby whether that is a changing table or bed. This way, once the baby is washed there will be no reason to waste time, preventing the baby from becoming cold.
• Ensure that the baby is kept warm throughout the experience by placing a small towel on top of the baby during the bath. Periodically, warm the towel in the bathwater and only take it off as you wash each area.
• It is best to use baby soap sparingly. This is to prevent the baby’s skin from drying out or risking any type of skin outbreak should they be allergic.
• Always keep at least one hand on the baby in case the baby starts to slip. Never leave the baby unattended in the bath. If you find yourself needing to walk away, take the baby with you.
• After the baby is bathed, moisturize the baby’s skin using either a special baby lotion or coconut oil.
Though a bath can seem daunting sometimes, there are only a few quick steps that need to be followed. All in all, as parents you just have to ensure that the baby is being bathed in a safe environment that is not too hot. A bath can be given as sparingly or as many times in a week as you would deem necessary.
Generally speaking, baby’s like to take baths as long as it is a relaxing process, that is why some parents tend to incorporate that into the night time routine as the baby starts getting older.
There are certain benefits to bathing the baby, whether it is something that parents decide to do daily or only two or three times a week. These benefits are more than just a clean baby at the end of the day.
• It helps with the parent-baby bond. Bath time can become a special time in the day between the baby and the parent. Both of you have to be focused on each other, the baby on the parent that is bathing it and the parent on the baby. There is time to have skin to skin contact, especially if you choose to have a bath or shower with your baby. When being bathed by mom, babies also like to feed if they are breastfed, facilitating that bond together.
• Bathing can become a learning experience for the baby. There are plenty of different toys available for bath time that can help with baby’s development such as learning shapes or colors. Babies also learn to use their imaginations in the tub and learn to play with the water for later use in a pool scenario.
• Relaxes a baby that has become agitated. Throughout the day, a baby can become overstimulated learning different things and growing. A nice calm bath with a parent helps the baby calm down before they are put to bed for the night. It’s also a good way to introduce a baby massage to be given after the bath with the use of moisturizers.
• It helps the baby get ready for bed. There is a reason that parents start to introduce a bath, whether recommended daily or not, into a bedtime routine. The warmth of the water and the calmness of the situation helps babies get ready for sleep.
Like anything in life, even something as simple as bathing a baby can come with its own set of challenges. It’s important to remember that a bath does not need to take place daily if this is something that has become a source of contention. Since each baby grows at their own rate, sometimes it is best to allow the baby to let you know when they are ready for something, such as taking baths more often.
Though most babies take to a bath right away, there are some babies that are not fond of bath time. If the baby gets very agitated at bath time, it is a good idea to check some things off the list to determine the cause.
• Check the temperature of the water. The baby may not be happy as the water is either too hot or too cold.
• The next time you bathe the baby, feed the baby first to ensure it just isn’t hunger that is causing them distress.
• Try giving the baby a bath after a nap, or not too long after to rule out whether the baby has just been overtired and in no mood for bathing.
• The baby may just not feel safe in the water on their own or want the company. Taking a bath or shower with the baby is also an option to try and rule out baby discomfort.
Unfortunately, there are those babies that no matter the effort on the part of the parents, are just not fond of baths and may not be for a while yet. If that is the case, the best thing to do is to give fewer baths, since newborns don’t require many to begin with and to try and give them as quickly as possible. Undress the baby right beside the tub or sink to minimize the bathing process and possible amount of time they feel cold.
Though the baby may cry, there is no reason to become discouraged. As time progresses, and the baby grows, baths will become an event that the family will look forward to, filled with bubbles, toys, and fun.
Babies come with all sorts of adorable accessories for every portion of their day and bathing is no different. There are many small and big accessories out there that can be purchased for bath time that may make it more enjoyable for both the parent and the baby.
• A hooded towel: though, of course, a towel is necessary to dry off and keep the baby warm, hooded towels are a bit of a novelty. They come in all sorts of patterns, whether they turn your baby in a lion or an elephant and are usually purchased just for sheer decoration.
• Bath toys: though a baby will not be able to pick up any toys yet, they can provide a good distraction and source of bonding time. Most of the first baby bath toys to be purchased are squeezable toys that squirt water. It is best to buy those that have a removable top to ensure that they can be properly cleaned and that mold will not form on the inside.
• Cups: these are specifically cups that help rinse the baby, especially the baby’s head which not all babies are a fan of. It can be a regular looking cup with a cute pattern or more of a novelty such as in the shape of a whale that spits water. This is something that can be used on the baby as they grow making washing the head a better experience for all.
• A thermometer: though an elbow will do just as well at checking the temperature of the water before you place the baby in it, there are thermometers designed specifically to show you the temperature of the water in many different shapes. For example, some come in the shape of ducks or turtles that will even advise if the temperature is getting too hot. The water should not be too hot or too cold.
• Knee pads: this is more specific for parents, but there are knee pads, and in some instances, a combination of knee pads and elbow pads, to help you kneel beside the tub in comfort and give the baby a bath.
• No-slip mat: this is a rubber mat that suctions to the bottom of the tub to help the baby from slipping around. This is also something that could be used by the whole family.
In the very beginning, bath toys and accessories are just a novelty, they are not necessarily things that are needed in order to actually bathe the baby. Some things such as baby toys or the no-split mat are something that can continue being used down the road as the baby grows into a toddler making the investment something worthwhile.
Bath time can become a good source of a bonding experience between the baby and its parents or caregivers. There is one uniform way in which to give a baby a bath as it can be given in an actual tub, a baby bathtub, or the sink. There are also many different baby bathtubs out there to choose from should parents take that route.
What is important to remember is that though a bath can be a bonding experience, it does not have to happen often. It is best for the baby’s skin if they are not bathed daily so as not to strip the baby’s skin of its natural moisture. This means that when the baby is bathed it is important to moisture afterward. As mentioned, this can also be a good time to provide the baby with a small massage.
All in all, bathing a baby can become a great and wholesome experience, but some babies still don’t like to bathe. That does not mean that the parents have done anything wrong, as there are no right or wrong answers here, but the baby may just need more time to grow into the idea. Slowly and steadily, it can be introduced and any fears on the part of the parent of the baby can be overcome.