Most baby products and safety guidelines are created for children of average size and development. What’s a parent to do if their baby is very small or very large for their age, or meeting developmental milestones at a different rate than their peers?
One of my favorite activities to do with my son is give him a bath. He loves splashing in the water, and I love cleaning off the spit up, solid foods, and other mysterious goopy things that live in those cute baby rolls and folds. We got an infant tub and have been using it in the sink for the last nine months. The tub meets the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recommendations: it’s hard plastic with a sloped, textured surface, and was manufactured after October 2017 so it meets current safety standards. My son is only just starting to outgrow the manufacturer’s size recommendations for the tub and can’t sit on his own yet, so I’m not comfortable putting him in our real bathtub.
The problem is he’s getting stronger and rolling over all the time. Wet babies are slippery, and a slippery baby in a tub three feet off the ground is asking for trouble. Not only that, he’s become a pro at kicking the faucet handle, which could easily turn the water very hot or very cold very quickly. We do have the water heater thermostat set to a maximum of 120 degrees to help prevent scalds, but I know I don’t appreciate the abrupt change in temperature when someone flushes the toilet while I’m in the shower; I can’t imagine my son would be pleased either.
I have friends with “typical” babies who were in the regular bathtub by six months or sooner. Many of them used products we do not recommend: those that are intended to help a baby sit up in a bathtub. While bath seats or inflatable tubs or even laundry baskets may seem like a good way to keep baby seated and keep toys nearby, they are not safe. A splashy, squirmy baby can easily get a wave going in the tub that will lift up the laundry basket, bath seat, or inflatable tub, dumping baby out and possibly even landing that tub or basket on top of them. That’s a scary situation for both parent and baby. These products are not fail-proof and may give parents a false sense of security: parents need to keep one hand on their baby in the bath at all times, even if using one of these products. I have a friend who suggested I bring my son in the shower with me. I drop my bottle of shampoo regularly; there’s no way I’d keep my grip on a wet, squirmy baby.
What’s the solution to our too-big-for-infant-tub-but-not-sitting-well-enough-for-full-tub problem? We’ve started to give my son baths with the infant tub sitting in the adult bathtub. That way, he’s in a familiar position, but if he rolls out of the infant tub, he’ll just be up against the side of the bathtub, rather than rolling off the kitchen counter or into the sink faucet. As he becomes a more independent sitter, we’ll start bathing him in the adult tub with his tush on the bottom of the tub. I will keep a hand on him at all times, even once he’s able to confidently sit on his own.
Parents need to give their full attention to baby in the bathtub. Never leave a baby alone in the bath, even for an instant. No phones, no answering the door, no helping a sibling go potty. Keep baby’s shampoo, soap, washcloths, towels, and toys all within your arm’s reach so you can keep one hand on baby at all times. Remember, babies can drown in as little as one inch of water. Drowning is quick, quiet, and often deadly. Most child drownings inside the home occur in bathtubs, and more than half of bathtub deaths involve children under one year of age.
Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.
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