Talk about untested waters: There are few things more intimidating than the first time you give your wriggly newborn a bath. The good news: Bathtime will quickly become routine -- even fun! But as your child grows, more challenges will pop up, from how to lure him into the tub and keep him entertained once he's there to knowing whether he's ready to bathe on his own. Here's help:
Collect what you'll need before you start bathing:
- Two washcloths -- one for soaping, one for rinsing
- Gentle, nondrying soap and baby shampoo
- Two bath towels -- one for drying, one for wrapping (one hooded towel will keep him warm)
- A clean diaper and diapering supplies
- A terry apron with a plastic lining or an old shirt for you.
- For sponge baths: a washbasin, sterile cotton balls, and rubbing alcohol
Until your infant's umbilical-cord stump falls off (usually within a week or two after birth), sponge baths are all he should have. Lay down a pad or towel on a changing table or your kitchen counter, and fill the sink or a bowl with warm (not hot) water -- test it with the inside of your wrist since your hands aren't as sensitive to heat. (A word about timing: Right before or after meals isn't ideal, since your baby may be hungry and irritable, or more likely to spit up from being jostled around.)
- Keep your baby feeling warm and secure by draping a towel over his lower half while you wash his upper body, and vice versa. Then:
- With a clean washcloth, lightly suds between his fingers and toes. (Rinse his hands before he gets them near his face.) As you wash his body, don't forget the little folds and crevices: neck, elbows, and knees. Use soap sparingly and be gentle -- don't scrub.
- Gently wipe away any crusty, yellowish material that's accumulated where the umbilical-cord stump joins the skin.
- Gently wash his face and ears (and behind the ears, but no swabs!). Using a clean, moistened cotton ball for each eye, wipe his eyes from his nose to the outer edge. (This step isn't always necessary, but it's a good idea if his eyes are even a little crusty.)
- If your son is uncircumcised, don't retract his foreskin; a simple washing with soap and water is all he needs (ditto for a circumcised penis). Wash and rinse well under his scrotum, too. Wash your daughter's genitals from front to back, and rinse well.
- Save the shampoo for last, using a nickel-size drop and a washcloth or a small plastic cup to rinse. Go for a football hold: With your baby facing you, rest his back on your forearm, with his head in the palm of your hand. Hold his head over the sink or a bowl, and use your other hand to shampoo and rinse his scalp. Don't be afraid to gently wash his two soft spots at the top and back of his head. (They'll harden by 18 months or so.)
- Wrap him in a towel and dry him right away. (Let his umbilical cord air-dry on its own -- new studies show that it's just as effective as dabbing it with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball).
Baby's first tub bath
After your baby's cord has fallen off and her navel has healed, she's ready for an infant tub or the sink.
* Place your baby's bathtub on the floor, with a tablecloth or plastic shower curtain underneath for easy cleanup. (Putting an infant tub inside the big tub may minimize mess, but it can be tough on your back to bend over it, and your baby may find the expanse of the big tub a little scary.)
* If you're using the kitchen sink as a tub, make sure there's nothing unsafe within reach. Move the faucet out of the way so she doesn't bump her head on it (or cover it with a foam protector).
* Use a molded sponge insert or a towel as a liner so your baby can lie in the infant tub or sink without slipping -- that way, both your hands will be free for washing.
* Be ready to grab her if she moves suddenly, and never leave your baby alone in or near the water -- even for a second to answer the phone or door -- no matter how shallow. Use a handheld hose if your sink has one; she'll love the feel of the warm, gently running water, and you can rinse her off easily.
Ready for the big tub
When your baby can sit up (usually by 6 to 8 months) he can graduate to bigger waters.
* Place a rubber mat or nonslip appliqués on the bottom of the tub to prevent slipping. Avoid using bath rings or chairs, as they can be unstable.
* Because the sound and sensation of running water from the tap can be frightening, run the bath ahead of time -- four or five inches is enough -- and turn the cold water off last so there aren't any hot drips during the soak.
"I keep my nineteen-month-old's hands busy when it's time to shampoo by letting him 'help' -- I give him a soft toothbrush for him to scrub his arms and legs."
-- Dawn Maniglia, Brooklyn, NY
Submit your bathing tip
* If your child's a little leery of the big tub, try letting him play in it with some of his toys without water to get him acclimated. Or bathe him in it while he's sitting in his infant tub for the first few times -- he'll appreciate its familiarity.
*To get him to put his head back for shampooing: Place some stickers or a mobile on the ceiling above the tub, or have him imitate a coyote by howling at an imaginary moon. If he has long locks, have him lie back in the water until his hair's submerged. Or if his hair's short, a spray bottle filled with clean water may do the trick.
Ease bathing fears
As your child grows, tubtime often becomes a bit of a tussle. In fact, many toddlers are afraid of the tub because they don't yet realize that they won't swirl down the drain. Most kids outgrow their fears by age 4 or 5. Try these tactics for now:
Get in the tub, too. Hold your child in your lap a couple of times so she feels more secure.
Convince her that she won't go down the drain. Fill the bathtub with water toys and show her that they're too big to get sucked under. And point out that she's much bigger than they are!
Just skip it. Sponge baths may be a good solution -- your child doesn't need a bath every day.
When he's ready to go solo
Around 6 or 7, most kids can bathe or shower themselves. Questions to ask yourself when considering whether your child is ready:
Has bathtime become less about playing? If he's more interested in shampoo than tub toys, he probably won't mind the switch.
Does he want to shower by himself? That's a good sign he's ready to go it alone (but you should still hang out nearby).
How is he on the jungle gym? If he's mature enough to use playground equipment wisely, he'll probably be able to handle the slick floor. (You will need to put down a nonslip mat, though.)
Will he be able to get himself clean? Let him try it first during a bath to gauge whether he has the interest and attention span to do a thorough job.
How well does he remember instructions? A child who can do a few things in a row without reminders is probably able to get through a shower without incident.
Bathtime helps relax kids and get them ready for bed, and most kids love them. But be patient if your child is hesitant -- fear of a big tub of water and of swirling down the drain may seem silly to you, but it's very real to a little kid. Make bathtime as fun as possible, and your child is likely to enjoy it more. Plus, bathtime is a great way to bond one on one with your child!