Bath time, baby! How to bathe an infant safely and confidently

When it comes to routine baby care, few things scare new parents as much as bath time.

When it comes to routine baby care, few things scare new parents as much as bath time.

“Parents can get very nervous those first few times bathing an infant,” said Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, a pediatric emergency physician at The Hospital for Sick Children. “So, the first thing I would say is, don’t be scared — you’ve got this.”

Dr. Rosenfield offers advice for new parents (and grandparents who may not have bathed a squirmy baby in a while) on how to make bath time safe and enjoyable.

How soon should parents bathe their newborn?

Some hospitals will bathe the baby before sending them home with their family. Many don’t, however, because they like the vernix — that’s the creamy, white biofilm infants are born with — to remain on your baby’s skin for up to 24 hours.

Either way, you don’t need to bathe your infant as frequently as you bathe yourself. Two to three times a week in the early days is plenty.

What’s the best method for bathing an infant?

Typically, you start with sponge baths, especially until the umbilical stump has fallen off and the navel area has healed. Before bathing your baby, make sure the room is warm — newborns hate cold air on their bodies. Have within arm’s length a changing pad, a small basin of lukewarm water, a damp washcloth, baby soap, baby shampoo, and an extra towel or small blanket.

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 with a hole in the bottom, so you can easily drain the water after bath time is over. There are even baby tubs that are made to fit into a kitchen sink.

Gently lower your baby into the water, making sure to support their head and neck with one of your hands. Use the washcloth without soap to wash your baby’s face. As you wash one body part, try to keep the other parts of their body nice and warm by covering them with a towel or blanket. Clean under all your baby’s body creases, such as under their armpits, and behind their ears. Make sure to wash the diaper area last. Use mild soap and be sure to rinse off the soap really well.

You don’t need to shampoo your baby’s hair more than once or twice a week. To do this, cradle your baby with your arm in a football hold, with your hand supporting their head. Hold their head over the sink and use your hand to gently splash lukewarm water over their head. Do not put your baby’s head directly under the tap. Lather with a small amount of baby shampoo, rinse well, and towel-dry immediately.

A couple of things to avoid: Don’t use Q-tips. Your baby’s ears clean themselves, as does the nose. If you have a boy who is uncircumcised, don’t pull back the foreskin; it’s also self-cleaning.

When is your baby ready to move to a bigger space?

You’re not going to move your baby to a real tub until they’re able to support themselves. So, if they can’t sit without support, you can’t put them in a tub, because they’ll just fall over. And we know a child can drown in two inches of water if they’re face down.

What other safety tips should parents be aware of?

Water temperature is a big one. Scald burns from baths, unfortunately, still happen. Health Canada recommends setting your water heater to 49 C (120 F) as a safe temperature. You can also install automatic mixing valves on faucets, showers and tubs, or an anti-scald mixing valve on your water heater.

Regardless, parents who fill up the tub should always check the temperature themselves before putting the child in.

Obviously, if you’ve got toys in the bath, you want to make sure they aren’t choking hazards. If you’ve got older children, they may have bath toys that aren’t appropriate for babies. So, you want to make sure you clear the tub of the older-kid toys.

Once your baby is older, how frequently should you bathe them?

Bath time typically becomes more frequent as babies get more active and grubbier. As they learn to feed themselves, for example, babies tend to get covered in food. Still, two to three times a week is still very reasonable at that stage.

If you need to leave the room to grab a towel — don’t!

Dr. Rosenfield said he can’t emphasize enough the importance of an adult being present 100 per cent of the time when a baby is in the bath. That includes never leaving your baby alone in the care of another child.

“If the doorbell rings, you take the baby out, let them scream, grab whatever you need,” he said.

“Even if you’re just dashing into the next room to grab a towel — don’t! Because that is the story every time when these awful events happen: ‘I was just gone for two seconds.’

You just have to drill it in your brain: If the baby is in the bath, they either come with you wherever you go, or you don’t move until they’re finished.”

Source: Toronto Star