Bathing your Baby

Bath-time for a baby can be a wonderful experience, full of opportunity to bond with your baby. A newborn baby can have their first bath as soon as you like, there is no need to wait until your baby’s umbilical cord stump has fallen off as long as you take care.

If you give birth in a hospital, you may find that your midwife will teach you how to bathe your baby before you go home afterwards. If you give birth at home or do not get this opportunity, do not be afraid to ask to be shown how to bathe your baby if you would like help.

Many parents find bathing their small baby for the first few times a little scary although there is no need to be afraid as long as you stay calm and are fully prepared. You may find that during the first few weeks you prefer not to bathe baby alone as you want the support and it can be useful to have someone close by to run errands and fetch things that you may have forgotten.

If your first bathing experience does not go to plan, do not be afraid to try again. It can be quite difficult to hold a wriggling baby who is wet and slippery with one hand and clean with the other hand and it can take a few weeks to become confident. With time though and perseverance, both you and your baby will enjoy bath time.

Although your baby does need cleaning every day, there is no need to bathe her daily. If you would rather only bathe once or twice a week, you can ensure your baby is clean by ‘topping and tailing’ her on the days where you do not bathe her. However, if you both enjoy the bathing experience and have the time available, there is no reason not to bathe every day.

If you live in an area with hard water, you may find that bathing and washing your baby too often can dry their skin out and possibly cause damage. If you are concerned, you could add a small amount of baby oil or emollient to the water in order to protect your baby’s skin. However, please remember that doing this will make you baby much more slippery to handle and you will need to take extra care.

You can bathe your baby in your bath tub, a specially designed baby bath or in any container which can hold water including your kitchen sink. As long as you ensure that you are in a warm room with no draughts and everything to hand, it does not matter where you are when bathing your baby.

How to bathe your baby
Although there may be times when your baby has to have a bath due to a mess made by either a nasty nappy or sickness, it is best to time bath-time to suit both you and your baby. Choose a time of day where you know you do not have any other distractions or interruptions.

Make sure that your baby is awake and alert and that she is not hungry. It is also best not to bathe immediately after feeding too  Although a bath can sometimes calm a baby, it is also best to plan bath-time for when your baby is happy and content.

As your baby grows, you may find it is best to have bath-time as part of the bedtime routine; however, in the early days you may find it best to bathe your baby during the day.

You may find that at some point in your baby’s life that they will poo in the bath. Try and remain calm and simply scoop the poo out of the water. If this is not possible then you will need to remove your baby, keep her calm and warm and either re-run the bath and start again or continue the cleaning by using the top and tail method.

Make sure the room is warm, draught-free and that you have everything you need to hand. This will include:

  • Bath tub, Baby bath or container to bathe in
  • Bath thermometer (if wanted)
  • Cotton wool
  • Small bowl of warm water – cooled boiled water should be used for a young baby
  • Sponge or flannel
  • A baby shampoo
  • A soap suitable for your baby
  • A bath toy (if your baby is slightly older)
  • At least one clean towel (but having a spare one to hand may be useful) A hooded towel is best at first.
  • Comb or brush
  • Clean nappy
  • Clean clothes
  • A blanket
  • Baby nail scissors or clippers if planning to trim nails on an older baby

Step 1: Wash your hands and fill the bath with around 13cm – 20cms of water. If your baby is older and able to sit, the water should never be higher than the waist. Check the temperature of the water. It should be 37 degrees C. The water should be warm but not hot.

Step 2: Begin to undress your baby but leave the nappy on. Wrap your baby in a towel and clean her eyes, neck and face as you do when topping and tailing. Remember to use a new piece of cotton wool for each eye wipe and to start at the nose and wipe towards the ear.

Step 3: If you prefer, you can wash your baby’s hair now before putting her in the bath. Hold your baby just above the water and using a flannel or sponge wash the scalp. You can use water alone in the first few weeks although if you prefer you can use a specially designed baby shampoo. Carefully rinse the hair and dry.

Step 4: Remove your baby’s nappy and clean the bottom and genital area before placing into the bath.

Step 5: Using your hand to support your baby’s neck and head at all times, slip you baby into the bath feet first and slide them down onto their back. The water should just cover your baby’s shoulders so that they do not get cold.

Step 6: Whilst still supporting your baby’s neck and head, use your other hand to clean your baby with a mild baby soap. You could also add a little baby oil or emollient to your baby’s bath water if you wish but plain water is more than adequate.

Step 7: Make sure that you clean your baby from top to bottom and also both front and back.

Step 8: Rinse your baby thoroughly.

Step 9: When you are ready to lift your baby out of the bath continue to support her neck and head with one hand and use your other hand under her bottom. If possible use your thumb and fore-finger and hold around one of your baby’s thighs.

Step 10: Wrap your baby up in a towel. Cover your baby’s head with the hooded part and pat your baby dry. Make sure the bottom and genital area is completely dry and put a clean nappy on. Re-wrap your baby up in a towel and cuddle your baby to keep them warm.

Step 11: Dress your baby in clean clothes, inluding a hat. Wrap your baby up in a blanket and continue to comfort and cuddle.

It is important that even as your baby grows and becomes more independent, that you never leave them alone in the bath.  If you find that you have forgotten something, you will either have to manage without the item or remove your baby from the bath before going to fetch it.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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