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On your mark, get set, bath time!

Last Modified: February 23, 2022

Women & Children, Family Medicine

bathing babies

This post was written by Kyle Davidson, DO, PPG – Family Medicine.

The declaration of bath time at our house has the same effect as firing a starting pistol at the beginning of a race. Every evening my four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter run to see who can get undressed the quickest and be the first in the tub. If it wasn’t already clear, both my children love baths. They always have, but I wasn’t always an expert. In fact, bathing a baby for the first time can be nerve-racking and lead many parents to question their abilities. So, in hopes of helping you sidestep any stressors and make the most of these memorable milestones, I’ve compiled a few tips that are bound to make bath time a fun-filled event for the entire family.

Tip No. 1 - When to give the first bath

It may surprise you, but you will want to avoid giving your baby their first full bath until their umbilical cord completely dries and falls off. This usually happens in the first 1-3 weeks. But don’t worry. You won’t have to wait that long to bathe your infant. Sponge baths are the answer! To give your child a sponge bath, you simply need to take a warm washcloth (or sponge) and gently clean the most important areas above the neck and below the waist. Be sure to wash your baby’s face and neck area, ensuring you get in between all those sweet chubby neck folds. Do the same with the diaper area, including the folds in the groin and those baby thunder thighs. Also, make sure the room is warm and you have a towel to dry as you go. Babies can get chilly!  

Tip No. 2 - How to prepare a full bath

Once the umbilical cord falls off, full baths can be a lot of fun, but there are a few things you’ll want to consider when preparing for the occasion. First, until your baby can sit up on their own, it’s a good idea to use a baby tub or the sink. It will be more comfortable for the baby and much more comfortable for you as you’ll be using one hand to support their head and neck. You will also want to utilize a non-slip surface for the baby to lay. A great way to accomplish this is to use a newborn bathtub because they usually have a non-slip surface, or you could lay a folded towel down in the sink/tub itself. As for the water temperature, it should be warm. You can test this by using your hand or a thermometer. It’s best to aim for bathwater that is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, be sure to feel the entire tub of water to ensure it’s all at the same temperature in case there are any hot spots. Finally, the water level should be 1-2 inches to cover the bottom of their body, but no higher.

Tip No. 3 - How often to bathe a baby

Now that you know when to give your sweet bundle their first bath and how to prepare it, you may also be curious as to how often it should occur. The most you’ll want to bathe your infant is 2-3 times per week. Any more than that, and your baby’s skin can get dried out. Using lotion is great for babies with dry skin, but if you keep the weekly bathing to 2-3 times per week, their skin shouldn’t need it. However, if you both love bath time and want to do it beyond a couple of times a week, don’t use soap. Just have them play in the water, then use lotion afterward.

Tip No. 4 – Morning vs. nighttime bathing

Honestly, whatever works best for you and your baby. Many parents enjoy giving baths at night because it helps their child calm down before bedtime. Other families like to give baths in the morning or afternoon. We typically do bath time at night in our household, but we are frequently changing course, like when the kids are soaked in spaghetti sauce or jelly (don’t worry, those are different meals).

Tip No. 5 – Ways to keep your baby safe during bath time

Luckily, it’s very easy to keep your baby safe. The most important point I can make is that you keep your eyes on your child at all times. If you need to grab something from another room (no matter how quickly), the baby comes with you. No exceptions. This will keep your baby safe and reduce their risk of drowning, which unfortunately is an all too real risk factor in this age group as it can happen in an instant.

Bonus tip!

Remember, bath time should be enjoyable and a way to bond with your baby. If you are stressed out and nervous when bathing your child, they will be too. They feed off the energy you bring to the moment. If it’s tense, they may not enjoy bath time. If you go in with a smile and focus on helping them explore the new environment, they will have fun and find it enjoyable. But, the best advice I can leave you with comes from my wife, “It doesn’t have to be perfect; you just have to try.” Will you get every speck of dirt off your baby? No way, that’s impossible. But if you focus on having a good time with your baby, you both should have a wonderful time.

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