Part 6 of the Bringing Baby Home Series: Bathtime!

I very distinctly remember the first time we bathed our little guy at home.  Although he was a big baby, he seemed so incredibly tiny and delicate once we took him home from the hospital.  That first bath, my husband and I held on to him like he could instantly break.  The two of us struggled to wash this fragile bean in our powder room sink, hoping we got the temperature right and that his precious skin would find the bath products we purchased gentle and calming.  Our son, slippery and wet, fussed and wiggled unpredictably in our hands.  It was a sweet experience that also unexpectedly "gave me a glow."  (Broke me out in a stress sweat, to put it less delicately.)  Although I read and researched like crazy, I didn't feel confident and the top-of-the-line baby tub we had registered for and received was too big and not equipped for a newborn.  (Whoops!)

Bathing your baby is an experience many parents treasure. It's a great time to bond with baby.  You focus entirely on your little angel as he or she enjoys the sensation of warm water and your gentle, nurturing hands.  Like so many parenting moments, it is an act that can be filled with a lot of love.  What people don't talk as much about is that it can also be stressful for many new parents.  And bathing a newborn is different than bathing an adult or child who can sit up, so there is stuff you need to know first, as well.

The Basics

Baby's First Bath

The timing of your baby's very first bath has changed over the last few years. While most institutions used to bathe babies within an hour or two of birth, many are changing their policies. The World Health Organization ("WHO") recommends delaying baby's first bath until 24 hours after birth—or waiting at least 6 hours if a full day isn't possible for cultural reasons. The reasons for waiting have to do with baby's body temperature and blood sugar.  Babies who are bathed right away are more likely to get cold and develop hypothermia.  Moreover, the stress can cause some babies to have a drop in blood sugar.  Additionally, bathing baby right away interrupts the skin-to-skin contact, mother-child bonding, and early breastfeeding success.  According to one study cited by the WHO, there was a 166% increase in hospital breastfeeding success after implementing a 12-hour delay in baby's first bath compared to those bathed within the first couple hours.  Lastly, baby's vernix (that waxy white substance that coats a baby's skin before birth) acts as a natural moisturizer and may have anti-bacterial properties.  The American Academy of Pediatrics ("AAP") recommends leaving vernix on baby's skin for awhile after birth - especially if baby is born prematurely.

Note: Babies of mothers with HIV or the Hepatitis viruses will still be bathed after the initial breastfeed in order to decrease risk to hospital staff and family members.

How Often to Bathe Baby

Newborns don't need a bath every day. They rarely get dirty enough to need a full bath that often.  Bathing baby three times per week during baby's first year should be sufficient.  More than that and you can dry out baby's tender skin.

Bathing a Baby Who Still Has an Umbilical Cord

Only give your newborn sponge baths until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off, which usually happens by about one or two weeks of age. 

A sponge bath is like a regular bath, except you don't put baby in the water.  Before you start, assemble what you will need: a basin of warm, soap-free water, a soft washcloth, and a towel.  Always keeping hands on your baby to prevent falls, lay baby on a flat surface, such as a changing table, table, counter, bed, or floor.  You can pad hard surfaces with a blanket, fluffy towel, or pad/oga mat.  Use the dampened cloth to wash baby's face, being careful not to get water in baby's eyes, nose or mouth.  Then wash the body, finishing with baby's diaper area.  Gently clean the creases of female genitals.  To clean male genitals, simply wipe the penis and surround areas gently.  You will also want to pay special attention to the folds of baby's neck, as milk spit up can become trapped within.  Keep baby warm, covering baby's body not being presently bathed with a towel.  

Giving Baby an Immersed Bath

Once the umbilical area is healed, you can try placing baby directly in the water. Baby's first baths should be as gentle and brief as possible. Your little one may protest a little. If this happens to a degree you feel warrants a change of plans, go back to sponge baths for a week or two, then try the bath again. Babies usually make it clear when they're ready.

Bathing Needs

1. Infant Bath  

Strictly speaking, an infant bath is not necessarily a need.  You can always bathe your child in a sink or even shower or bathe with him or her.   Showering or bathing with your baby can be a beautifully bonding experience, but there are some perks to using a tub as well.  

First, a baby bathtub's anti-slip surface can bring peace of mind.  You don't have to worry about the baby wiggling or slipping out of your arms.   Baby bathtubs are also nice to have in the first weeks postpartum, as new moms can stand over the kitchen sink rather than sit uncomfortably beside the tub on the bathroom floor.  Lastly, if you like a hot bath or shower, you will freeze bathing with an infant at the lower temperature best for him or her.

What a baby bathtub does not do is allow you to move about freely.  Infants and toddlers should not be left alone in water.  Baby bath safety requires absolute, 100% vigilance.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC"), most drowning fatalities happen during a quick lapse in oversight - when a parent quickly runs to get a towel or shampoo, or answers the phone or door.  So, if you decide to use a baby bath tub, keep your eye and hands on your little sweetheart.  

There are three main types of infant tubs.  Sink insert baby bath seats are foam inserts that you slip into your sink to create a safe bathing space.

Featured Product: Blooming Bath Lotus Insert

When not in use, they usually lie or fold flat for easy storage.  

Basin tubs are standalone miniature tubs.

Featured Product: Boon Soak 3 Stage Bathtub

Depending on their size, they can be used in a kitchen sink or made for your bathtub alone. These are roomier and some can be used through baby’s first two years - provided they have the proper support for a newborn. 

Lastly, there are convertible tubs that grow with your baby.  There is usually a  hammock style sling or insert to support the newborn, which you can remove as your baby grows.

Featured Product: Stokke Flexi Bath with added Newborn Insert

When selecting a newborn bathtub, safety is the first consideration.  The CSPC issues manufacturer guidelines for many baby tubs and bath seats, but baby bath product recalls are not uncommon. Read up and check the recall list.

You should also consider where you plan to bathe baby and how much space you have.  Obviously the tub needs to fit the wash space.  But there is also the matter of where to store it when not in use.  If space is tight, skip the huge tub.  Instead, consider space saver options, like a tub that is soft and foldable or collapsible or has a hook or hanger for easy storage. Note: While there are inflatable baby bathtubs that can certainly save on space, they are best avoided.  They can tip over, putting your baby at risk of drowning.

When selecting a tub, look for one that has the following additional features:

  • Stability
  • Nonskid surfaces on the bottom (both inside and out)
  • Smooth rounded edges 
  • Support for your baby’s head and shoulders
  • Room to grow
  • Easy draining capability
  • Quick-to-dry
  • BPA-free materials

If you want to use the tub in different sinks or bathrooms, also consider whether the tub is easily portable.  

Some baby bathtubs have additional features that you might find appealing.  For instance, some monitor water temperature.  The Boon Soak 3 Stage Bathtub, featured above, has an integrated plug that changes color when the water temperature changes.  The AquaScale 3-in-1 Digital Scale, Water Thermometer, and Infant Tub, featured below, has a built in digital thermometer.  Also, some, like the AquaScale, can record baby's weight with each bath.

Featured Product: AquaScale 3-in-1 Digital Scale, Water Thermometer, and Infant Tub

For a list of top newborn baby baths, click here.

2.  Baby-safe Hair and Body Wash

Babies smell SO good.  Until they don't.  And that can take a matter of seconds.  Spit-up, diaper blowouts - these are great reasons to bathe baby.  But bathing baby with gentle, moisturizing products is also important to keeping baby healthy.  Regular baths can help remove dirt and bacteria, and keep baby's hair and skin at their best.

Even if you select the highest quality skin and hair products for yourself, your products are very likely too harsh for a little one.  Baby shampoos and washes will be gentler, more moisturizing, tear-free, and generally contain milder ingredients - which is just what baby's new tender skin needs.

Some pediatricians recommend looking for products that have plant-based ingredients, such as avocado or other fruit oils, chamomile or lavender extracts, and sunflower seed oil.  You also want to find shampoos and washes that are tear-free. 

When it comes to ingredients to avoid, the list is longer: 

  • Phthalates - a family of toxic chemicals that have been linked to allergies and asthma, infertility, reduced testosterone concentrations, and, so scary, abnormal development of reproductive system in baby boys
  • Sulfates - specifically sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).  SLS is harsh on sensitive skin and for some, can cause allergic reactions.
  • Alcohol (sometimes listed as ethanol or isopropyl alcohol), which can cause dryness, irritation, rash and breakouts
  • Parabens 
  • Chemicals that are used as preservatives in cosmetics
  • Dyes
  • Added fragrances or perfumes, which can cause irritation or trigger an allergic reaction

I love - and wholly recommend - Burt's Bees Baby and Mustela products.  For a list of other top shampoos and baby washes, click here.

3.  Lotion

Newborn's new skin is more prone to dryness, water loss, and potential irritation because it’s thinner than adult skin.  Consequently, you will want to have lotion on hand to help keep baby's "largest organ" healthy.  The best time to apply lotion is right after bath time.  Doing so helps lock in moisture and supports the skin barrier. It also creates a nice soothing element to your baby’s bedtime routine.

Similar to baby body washes and shampoos, baby lotions are made specifically for baby's needs.  Also like baby body washes and shampoos, there are ingredients to avoid.  Look for baby lotions that are formulated without harsh ingredients that can be rough or irritating.  Avoid products with fragrances, preservatives, parabens, sulfates, and alcohol.

For a list of top baby lotions, click here.

4.  Nail Scissors or Clippers/Emery Boards

Newborn fingernails and toenails are generally soft and flexible. However, if they are ragged or too long, they can result in painful scratching.  The safest method of nail care is to use a nail file or emery board to shorten or smooth the nails.  Another option is to trim nails carefully with baby nail scissors that have blunt rounded tips or baby nail clippers.  Experts warn not to use the larger adult clippers as you can actually clip the tip of the baby's finger or toe instead of the nail.

For top baby nail clippers, click here.  For emery boards, click here.  For more information, click here.

5.  Brush and Comb

Some babies (not mine) are born with oodles of hair.  As such, you may want to invest in a a very soft bristle brush or comb.  Even if your little one is not born with a lot of hair, you can use the soft bristles of the brush to very gently brush away baby's dry skin or cradle cap.  For more information on those conditions and tips on how to care for them, click here

6.  Spout Guard

In the event you will be bathing baby in a tub within the tub, you should consider getting a spout guard.  Certainly you will need one later on when baby is big enough to bathe in the tub, but they can also guard against inadvertent injury caused by you accidently bumping baby into the faucet. Generally, they are made with soft materials like polyester, rubber, or inflated pillows and encompass the faucet, making it less likely to cause injury. Many of these designs are made featuring fun characters to make bath time a little more enjoyable.  When selecting, look for spout covers that will stay in place and free of BPA (bisphenol A), PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), and phthalates.  For a peak at some brands, click here.

Bathing Wants

1.  Baby-specific Wash Cloths and Towels

Babies are tiny and can get cold easily.  Consequently, it is great to have to-scale washcloths and towels with hoods.  There are lots of really cute sets.  What you pick will depend on style, price point, and fabric preferences (i.e., muslin, terry cloth, bamboo, organic, not organic). 

I love aden & anais's towels and washcloths.  They hold up well, are made of soft cotton and muslin that were gentle on skin, and are cute to boot.  For other great brands, click here.  

2.  Baby-specific Rinsing Cup

In reality, all you need is a cup of some sort to help rinse the shampoo from baby's hair while protecting baby's face and eyes.  That said, as with all things baby, you can find specially-made products that compliment decor and have great baby-specific functionality.  For top rinsing cups, click here.

For later:

1.  Tub toys

Newborns really don't need tub toys.  You will want them later on, though.

2.  Baby Bathroom Decor

If you are bathing baby in the kitchen sink or don't have a separate bathroom for your kiddos, decor is unnecessary.  However, if you do have a kiddos' bathroom, you may want to decorate it with fun, kid-based themes.  This is really all about your personal style and price point.  Have fun with it!


Photo by Nihal Karkala on Unsplash

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