Giving a baby a bath can be intimidating at first – they are wiggly and slippery and SO tiny. However, once you get comfortable it can be a lovely time for bonding, playing and soothing. Below are some tips that will help you have a positive and safe bath time experience.
Water temperature – hot water heaters should be set at 120° F to avoid scald burns. Always test the bath water before putting the baby in the bath.
Adult supervision – keep one hand on the baby at all times (touch supervision). If you need to step away for any reason, take the baby out of the water, wrap them in a towel for warmth and take them with you. Babies should never be left alone in the bath, even for a minute, and should not be left under the supervision of a young sibling.
Decide the most comfortable place for you and your baby to do the bath. When the baby is small, an infant tub or the sink lined with a towel to decrease sliding are recommended. Bath seats are NOT recommended and have been associated with injury and death. Make sure that the room is warm and that the bathing area is out of any draft.
Gather everything you might need before you put the baby in the water. This will eliminate the need to take the baby in and out of the water as you get items.
Once you have everything gathered and you have double checked the water, it is time to get started. Put the baby gently in the water. If they are upset, using a calming voice or singing a song might soothe them.
Start with the face and work your way down, with the diaper area being last. If soap is needed, use a mild soap sparingly and make sure that the baby is well rinsed before drying off.
We do not recommend putting newborns in a bath until after the umbilical stump has fallen off. Sponge baths are a great way to get the baby clean while keeping the umbilical stump dry.
Prepare for the sponge bath in the same way you would get ready for a baby bath, but have a surface for the baby to lay beside the sink or tub. Keep the baby covered with a towel for warmth and just uncover the part you are cleaning.
Newborns don’t get very dirty, so just using a warm, wet washcloth is usually enough. Start with the face and work your way down, with the diaper area being last. If soap is needed, use a mild soap sparingly and make sure that the baby is well rinsed before drying off.
Babies don’t need a bath more than 3 times a week. Bathing more frequently can dry out the skin.
It doesn’t matter if you do the bath in the morning or in the evening – do what works best for you and your baby.
As the baby gets a little older, they might enjoy playing in the water. You can let them splash and play in warm, non-soapy water at the beginning of bath time and wait to soap and rinse until the end.
Sarah Denny, MD, FAAP, works as an attending physician in the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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