Some babies cry or shake when being bathed, due to the unfamiliar sensation of being wet, cold and naked. This can make parents feel they're causing their child stress, but bathing your baby is an essential part of baby care and grooming.
Of course, other babies love it - you just never know!
You should give your newborn sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump has fallen out, but once it has, you can introduce baths as a time for play, baby massage, and, of course, a chance to get them clean.
You only need to bathe your newborn once a day at most; too many baths with tap water will dry out the natural oils in a baby’s skin, especially babies with eczema and other baby skin conditions. You can usually give a sponge bath on alternate days, as long as the genitals are cleaned thoroughly after each nappy change.
Here are some general rules for bathing babies, from newborns to toddlers:
Test the water temperature with your elbow or wrist – it should be warm, between 36-37 degrees Celsius, although baths can be a little cooler in summer.
- Make sure the room has no draughts from open windows, especially in winter.
- Assemble all the things you'll need, including a soft towel, washcloth, baby bath care products, clothes and a nappy.
- Be aware that some bath products aren't suitable for babies - use pH neutral and hypoallergenic cleansers, soaps, moisturisers and baby oils that are made specifically for babies, that are as free of chemicals and additives as possible. Don’t use baby shampoo before six months of age, as your baby’s hair doesn’t secrete any oils before this time.
- Fill the bath tub with water - for babies up to six months of age, approximately 5cm of water can be in the tub, and for children over six months anywhere between 10 and 13cm is okay. Never put your baby into a bath while the water is still running, and be sure to run cold water through the tap last to ensure there is no chance of your baby being scalded. Cover taps with a rubber cap to ensure no hot water drips in.
- Test the water temperature with your elbow or wrist – it should be warm, between 36-37°C, although baths can be a little cooler in summer.
- Before putting your baby in the tub, dampen a clean washcloth to wipe your the eyelids very gently. Then wash her face with the clean water in the tub, then dry it.
- Cradle your baby’s head with one arm, supporting it and her neck as you lower her into the baby bath, feet first, and then onto her back so her head is slightly submerged. Gently splash some water onto her head and through her hair. Until a baby can sit unsupported (between six and nine months) you should always hold her tightly, even if there is a baby sling or seat in the tub.
- Wash her torso and arms next, followed by the genitals and bottom last.
- Minimise body heat loss after a bath by wrapping her in a hooded towel that covers her head as soon as you lift her out of the water.
- Pat your baby dry, including in the skin creases in the armpits, groin, under the chin, around the neck and knees and behind the ears. If your baby has dry skin or nappy rash you can apply a light layer of lotion before putting on her nappy, followed by the rest of her clothes.
Remember to never leave a baby unattended while bathing them for any period of time, even if they are in a baby sling or chair. Babies can drown in only a centimetre of water, and can do it silently.