Everything Moms Need to Know About Giving Baby a Bath

newborn baby having a bath

Giving a baby a bath is not the easiest task on the planet. They're squirmy. They're slippery, and -- more often than not -- they're screaming. But since you can't wait until they're old enough to do it themselves, getting a handle on how to give a baby a bath is a must.

So when is baby old enough for their first bath? What temperature should the water be, and what do you have to buy?


A Mom's Guide to Baby BathtimeWhen can baby start getting baths?

Hospitals tend to teach parents to sponge bathe their newborns before they even leave the maternity ward, but the first "real" bath often won't happen until baby is at least one week old or older.

"We do not recommend immersion until the [umbilical] cord comes off," explains Dr. Charles Shubin, the director of pediatrics at Mercy FamilyCare, a division of Family Health Centers of Baltimore. For little boys who are circumcised, Shubin warns parents should also wait at least 24 to 48 hours after the procedure to make sure there's no risk to open skin.

Where should you bathe baby?

The baby product market is chock-a-block with baby tubs in all varieties, but which one is the best?

"I don't know that it matters," says Dr. Shubin with a laugh. "Therefore, I don't care." Like many parents, Shubin bathed his own children in the family sink, and he says that's just fine for parents. When baby gets too big for the sink, you can still avoid the expensive tubs -- they can be transitioned into the family tub.

How do you prepare a baby's bath?

Whether you're in the sink, family tub, or a specially made tub, however, parents need to ensure that water from the tap is not too hot for an infant's sensitive skin. "Hot water heaters are set much hotter than they need to be," Dr. Shubin explains. "They're often set for 130 degrees, which is hot enough to cause third degree burns in a matter of minutes."

Hot water heaters are usually adjustable, and anyone with a baby in the house should turn the water down to 125 degrees -- at the highest. Even at that point, water should be tested with the back of your hand to ensure it's not too warm.

Parents should also gather all items they will need for bath time -- a washcloth, towel and your preferred baby soap -- before ever placing baby in the water. You won't have a chance to go get anything you forgot once you've started bathtime; it's not safe. 

"Never leave a baby unattended in any amount of water," warns Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, pediatrician at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and creator of the Baby Bundle mobile app. "Always stay at arm's reach. Children can drown in a few inches of water and in just a few minutes!"

In fact, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates in America. Although most children who drown do so in swimming pools, it can just as easily happen inside the house.

Trachtenberg warns that one of the biggest mistake parents make in the bathroom is "assuming if they turn away or talk on cell phone for just a moment that an accident couldn’t occur. But it can and does happen!"

How often should you bathe a baby?

No matter what your mother or grandmother told you, there is no hard and fast rule about how often babies should be bathed. The fact is, babies tend not to get very dirty, which means you can usually go several days between baths.

Dr. Stephanie Levine, board certified pediatrician and member of the board of directors of child product safety non-profit Keeping Babies Safe, says it really comes down to personal choice.

"Many parents find this to be a relaxing and wonderful bonding experience," she says, "while others find it overwhelming due to a screaming baby who cannot wait for bath time to end. Don't fret, they will outgrow this!"

What is bathtime like at your house?


Images via scottiet812/Flickr; via Terry Vine/Blend Images/Corbis

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