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Ask Dr. Sears: Bathing With Baby

Q. Is it okay to take a bath with our five-month-old?

Yes! One parenting tip that Martha and I learned many kids ago is to look at parenting through the eyes of your child. Ask yourself: "If I were my child, how would I want my parents to act?" And that applies to kids of all ages. If babies could talk, they would certainly say, "Let me into the tub, too! That looks like fun, and I like playing with my favorite person..."

Most new mothers have what I humorously call the "mother cat syndrome." Babies really don't need a daily bath. Except for baby's diaper area, little else gets that dirty. Moms simply like to wash their babies. And why not? It's a fun way for mother and daddy and baby to enjoy some extra touch time. Otherwise, a sponge bath every day with a total body bath once or twice a week is certainly enough for hygiene.

Follow these steps for a safe and fun bath for two:

Regulate the water to body temperature. The first thing, of course, is to test the water before putting baby in the tub. It's best to make the water body temperature. Leave the drain partially open and a warm-water faucet running slightly. This provides the soothing sound of running water and keeps the water comfortably warm.

Enter the tub safely. To avoid slipping and falling with baby, enter tub by yourself. After you're comfortably positioned, have your partner hand the baby to you.

Wear "kid gloves." Put on a pair of textured gloves (available at bath and body stores), and voila! You have an instant washcloth that automatically shapes itself to baby's body and lessens the slipperiness of bare hands and soapy skin.

Enjoy a "wet nurse." You can even breastfeed in the tub. Fill the tub to just below breast level and then lay back and nurse your baby. Keep baby's body comfortably below the warm water. Bathing and nursing is especially valuable for infants who protest a bath. One of Martha's most memorable experiences of bathing for two is when she would nurse our babies while taking a bath.

Respect sensitive skin. Pat, don't rub the skin, with the washcloth. Vigorous scrubbing irritates a baby's sensitive skin. Because newborn skin is sensitive to too much soap, use the soap only in areas caked with oil secretions: behind the ears, in the creases of the groin, and in those adorable little neck folds. Use a mild soap sparingly. Since soap robs the skin of natural oils, try to find one with a built-in moisturizer. Shampooing the scalp with a mild shampoo once a week is plenty. Avoid powders and oils. A baby's skin is naturally rich in oil. And, powders, if inhaled, can irritate baby's sensitive breathing passages. When the bath is done, blot -- don't wipe -- baby dry with a towel.