Bathing an infant can be the most stressful part of motherhood, especially for first time mothers.
However, soon they find out that the bath time is a time for fun for the child and the mother and the sooner they realize this, the sooner they start to enjoy this activity.
It is important to keep in mind a few things when bathing your baby to assure safety and pleasure.
What is the best time to bathe a baby?
The most convenient time to give a baby a bath is before the 10 a.m. feed, however, it can be done before any feed.
The important thing is not the time, but the fact that a baby is bathed before being fed. This is recommended because babies often fall asleep after feeding.
How often should a baby be bathed?
Babies do not really get dirty except around the mouth when they throw up and around the diaper area.
That is why it is not necessary to give babies a bath every day. You can use a wet sponge to clean the diaper area and face and not necessarily give the baby a full bath for several weeks after birth.
If you do bathe a baby, it is often sufficient to do it twice a week in cool weather and on alternate days in warm climates.
The important thing is to make sure your baby is clean around the mouth and diaper area at all times.
Taking care of the navel
When a mother brings her baby home from the hospital he usually has a stump, where the umbilical chord has been cut, attached still to his body.
This stump eventually withers and falls off in about one week, though sometimes it takes up to three weeks.
When the stump falls off it usually leaves a raw spot which takes a number of weeks to heal. Sometimes it might even leave a drop of blood or two; this is of no importance and should not be worried about.
Do not apply any bandage, binding or tape. However, if it bleeds more, the baby’s doctor should be consulted.
It is important to keep the raw spot dry and clean. Doctors do not recommend putting any dressing over it so that it remains driest and heels faster.
It is also advisable to keep the diaper/nappy lower than the level of the navel so that it does not get wet. In the early weeks of the infant’s life, when the navel is not fully healed, it is not advisable to give him a full bath.
Damp-mopping (i.e. wiping the baby’s body with a damp cloth) will be sufficient. However, if the baby is bathed, make sure to clean and completely dry the raw spot with a sterile piece of cotton.
For the first few weeks, a baby is scared of bathing, not because you are doing it wrong, but because he is uncomfortable with sudden changes in his body temperature.
Young infants are often a lot more comfortable with sponge baths. For damp mopping you would need luke-warm water (around 100 F) a draft-free room, a basin for water and two big towels (one to bathe the baby on, the other two wrap him in after the bath.)
Usually babies love the feeling of being totally naked and enjoy the freedom by flailing their arms and legs around.
However, some babies are scared of being totally undressed. In this case, instead of taking off all clothes at once, each piece of clothing should be removed in turn and the sponge bath should be given in stages.
A sponge bath can be given in your lap or any plain surface like a bed or the top of the changing table etc.
However, if you are using a hard surface, line the bottom with something thick, like a large pillow or folded blankets or quilts. This would make it harder for the baby to roll over.
A Full Bath
To give your baby a full bath it is important to keep everything you need for a bath at hand, before you start it.
Otherwise you will have to go to get the missing object during the bath, either holding a dripping baby in your hands or leaving the baby unattended.
You should have the following things with you before starting the bath
- Soap/shampoo (if you use any)
- Lotion/powder (if you use any)
- Clothes, diaper
- Any other accessories needed for the baby.
In a draft-free room, a baby can be bathed in a wash bowl, a thoroughly cleaned kitchen sink or a plastic tub.
Place the tub where it does not require you to bend while bathing the baby, that can be tiresome and hard on a mother’s back.
Put the washbowl on a table so that you can sit beside it on a chair or a high dresser so that you can stand comfortably. Line the tub or sink with towel to prevent the baby from slipping.
Initially, put only a few inches of water in the tub. When the initial apprehension wears off with practice, you can put in more water and your baby will enjoy the deeper water.
Gently lower the baby in the washtub. To avoid slipping you can also wear cotton gloves which will, in addition, also serve as the wash cloth.
Babies do not get very dirty so using soap isn’t necessary. If you can’t bring yourself to avoid soap altogether, use a mild one especially made for babies. It will hurt the baby the least even if it enters the eyes.
To avoid making the bath miserable for the baby only clean the baby’s face with plain water. You can sing or talk to your baby in the bath to entertain him and reassure yourself.
Hold the baby with a football grip. Slip your hand under neck and grab his arm with your wrist supporting his head, like shown in the picture below:
Wash the baby’s abdomen, back, arms, legs and genitalia in turn, paying special attention to creases and folds. If your baby boy has not been circumcised gently pull back the foreskin, wash, and pull it over again.
When using soap or mild baby shampoo to wash the scalp, gently tip the baby a little backwards to avoid the suds getting into his eyes when you are rinsing it off.
When the bath is done take the baby from the tub and dry him with a towel.
Use cotton buds to clean the crevices in and behind the ears but never use them to clean the ear canal, nose or any other opening.
Using powder or lotion after bath is fun but not necessary. If you are using powder make sure to shake it into your hands first, at a distance from the baby so that he does not inhale and draw it into his lungs.
Powder can also build up creases and cause rashes so put thin layers only that do not form lumps. Powders can be used when the baby’s skin chafes easily. Lotions can be helpful when the skin is dry or there is mild nappy rash.
Mineral oils are discouraged because they sometimes cause mild rash.
Most babies love being immersed in water so enjoy the bath while it lasts. Do not rush it as it is a relaxing time for the baby’s muscles and he enjoys making swimming motions in the buoyancy that the water provides.
Occasionally, babies do not care for a bath because they are hungry, or the water temperature isn’t right, or their sense of security is threatened.
If your baby seems very annoyed it is a good idea to delay the bath for a later time when he will be in the mood.
For safe bathing always remember the following rules:
- Warm water for you will be hot for the baby. Check the water on the sensitive inside part of your elbow.
- It should feel comfortably warm. Water for baby bath should be around 90-100 F.
- Unplug the telephone or resist the temptation to attend it while bathing a baby.
- NEVER leave your baby alone while bathing, no matter how important the work is or how little the water you are using.
- Babies can drown even in an inch of water. They need constant second-to-second supervision when they are around water.