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Ask Dr. Sears: Easier Bathing Strategies

Q  My 3-month-old screams every time I try to give her a bath. What should I do?
A First, keep in mind that except for the diaper area, 3-month-old babies don't get dirty enough to need a daily bath; twice a week is plenty. In between full baths you can sponge bathe the groin area and those adorable folds of fat in the neck. Frequent wiping of the chin is also necessary when drooling starts. Once your daughter begins crawling, she's likely to need more frequent washing and baths.

When it's bath time, remember that it should be fun for both you and your baby. Here are some tips to get her clean and also help her enjoy this ritual: Start with a warm, draft-free room; a basin of water; and a thick towel on which to place your baby after she's been bathed. Many babies cry if you undress them completely, so you may want to try washing one body part at a time, leaving some of your baby's body clothed throughout the sponge bath. Next, test the temperature of the water with your wrist. Then, ease your infant slowly into the water. The warm water is a signal to Baby to relax her muscles and feel her buoyancy. A good baby bathtub may help, too. There are several types on the market, some of which you place on a tabletop or counter, and others that sit in a regular bathtub. Or you can simply use the kitchen sink, which can make for great baby book pictures. Try putting on a pair of old cotton gloves - they work as an instant washcloth and solve the problem of slippery, bare hands on soapy skin. Placing a towel on the bottom of the sink or tub is another good trick to prevent Baby from slipping. Then, rub a bit of mild soap on the wet glove and wash her gently. When washing her face, use only water; soap in the eyes really hurts.

If your baby screams every time you try to put her into the water, it may simply mean that the water is too hot or cold - something you can easily fix with a little experimentation to find the temperature she likes best. More difficult is having a baby who just doesn't like to be alone in the water. In our household we solved this by climbing into the tub with our babies at bath time. Here's the Sears family bathing-with-babies ritual: First, start filling the tub. Then undress yourself and your baby. Hold her close to you as you get into the water, and then sit back and enjoy the wonderful skin-to-skin contact. (To keep the bath from getting cold, be sure to leave the warm water trickling in slowly.) If your baby still protests, sit in the tub first, showing her how much you're enjoying your bath. Then have someone hand her to you while you're sitting in the bathtub. If you're breastfeeding, don't be surprised if your baby wants to nurse; it's a natural consequence of being close to your breasts. In fact, when entering the water, you can try first putting her to your breast as you slowly and carefully ease your way into the bath. As your daughter gets older, bath toys such as the classic rubber ducky may also entice her if she's a reluctant bath-taker. If she still protests, try holding her carefully while you shower together. Most infants eventually enjoy water time with Mom or Dad, either in a tub or in the shower.