Bath Time for Babies

Baby being bathed
When it comes to normal baby care, nothing is as scary to new parents as bath time. Don't worry about putting baby in a tub for the first couple of weeks, until the umbilical stump has fallen off. During these early days, a sponge bath will do. After your baby's umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the area has healed, you can start to put him into the baby tub for baths. Your baby will not be ready to use the "big" bathtub until he is three to six months old, when he can hold his head up properly.

The baby tub

Some parents like to use a small plastic tub; others like to use a sink. If you buy a baby tub, try to get one that has a hole in the bottom, so that you can easily drain the water after bath time is over. There are even baby tubs that are made to fit into the kitchen sink.

When preparing for your baby's bath, make sure the room is warm enough, and remove any rings or other jewelry from your hands. Keep a cup, a baby washcloth, mild soap, baby shampoo, and a soft towel nearby. Use the cup to fill the bathtub with two to three inches of lukewarm water. Test the temperature of the water with the inside of your wrist.

Gently lower your baby into the water, making sure to support his head and neck with one of your hands. Use the washcloth without soap to wash baby's face. Then soap up and rinse his body. Your baby will enjoy his bath if you continually pour warm water over his body to keep him warm.

Wash your baby's hair with mild shampoo, and massage it into his entire scalp. Rinse the shampoo with your hands or a cup.

When you are finished washing your baby, wrap him in a towel and gently pat him dry. You may want to use some baby lotion so that his skin does not dry out.

The big tub

Once your baby is able to sit up by himself or with minimal help, you may want to switch him to the family tub. Although this may seem daunting at first, especially since your baby is so small and slippery, the big tub can be great fun for a six-month-old.

Make sure the room is warm, and keep your baby's clothes on until the tub is filled with water. Keep a soft hooded towel, a washcloth, soap, shampoo, and tub toys close at hand, within arm's reach. Test the water temperature before putting your baby in the tub. If you dip your elbow or wrist into the bath water, the temperature should be warm, not hot. Then ease your baby into the water. Stay right beside your baby the entire time he takes a bath. Do not leave for a second, as your baby can drown in just a small amount of water.

Here are some other helpful tips for making your baby's time in the big bath tub more fun:

  • Use tub toys, plastic books, and plastic containers to keep your baby occupied while you wash him. Dry off the toys after each use, and store them in a dry place.

  • Don't splash your baby's face. While your baby may enjoy splashing around and having a grand old time, he will not like it if you splash water in his face. Splashing your baby's face can turn him off bath time altogether.

  • Don't pull out the stopper while your baby is still in the tub. Emptying the tub while your baby is still in it can cause a chill. It can also upset your baby. The noise of the water going down the drain can frighten him, and he may also worry that he will fall down the drain too.

Safety considerations for bath time

Always make sure to remain within arm's reach of your baby when he is in the bathtub. Never leave him alone or in the care of another child while he is being bathed. Do not to ask babysitters to bathe your baby.

Last but not least, always remember that hot bath water can burn your baby's fragile skin. Make sure the water is warm, not hot, before you put your baby into the bathtub. Make sure that the hot water tap is not dripping, so that droplets will not fall onto your baby and cause a burn.

Hazel Pleasants, RN, MN

Andrew James, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPC