Some kids loooove the water almost from the get-go, while others take a while to warm up to it.
Their first real baths are often performed at home by their mom and / or dad, and the first attempt can be intimidating, to be sure.
Believe me, I know. My two little ones are just leaving babyhood behind for those tremendous toddler times, and it seems like yesterday that I was boldly braving that very first bath in a tiny plastic tub.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, mainly how to make the whole thing much easier on myself.
I started out filling the infant tub cup by cup, leaving it resting on the bedroom floor on a towel. There were some obvious flaws with that system.
Now, I’m at the point that I simply fill the family tub with warm water, help my two little ones in, help with washing as needed, and then let them enjoy some “swimming” and play time together. (Or, I get some writing or pumping done while the hubs does all of this.)
Bath time can be fun! And some parents choose to incorporate it as a regular part of their baby’s routine.
To get you started pre-splashing, here are 20 things to do before, during, and after washing that baby.
20 Before: Get Towels At The Ready
It really is all about smart preparation, based on my experience. Well, and perhaps a bit of bravery, at first, but being super ready really helps.
The worst is when you reach for something you need and it’s not there.
And one of the most basic essentials for the bath, of course, besides the water, would be – you guessed it – the towel.
If you don’t take the time to gather it or have it right within reaching distance before you ever begin the bath, you are kind of stuck. You can’t ever leave baby alone in the bath, so if you forget it, you end up with a wet, slippery, dripping, and quickly cooling little human in your hands.
Receiving the baby into a towel makes them much easier to hang onto. Those specialized baby ones with hoods are great because they help to dry the hair and keep baby warm.
19 Before: Down To The Birthday Suit
Yes, I’m sure you understand that if you’re going to give your baby a “real” bath in some amount of water (as opposed to just a spot check or wipe-down), you will need to completely undress him or her.
But there is an art to developing a set sort of order of operations, if you will.
I know after giving a nightly bath to two little ones for the last handful of years.
You can’t undress your little one too early, or they’ll get cold as you run the water, gather your supplies, and so on.
After you’ve filled the tub or baby bath and gotten everything else ready, it is probably a good time to ditch those cute little duds.
MayoClinic.org notes that it can work well to wrap your babe in a towel pre-bath, too.
18 Before: Clean-Up On Isle #2
The VERY last thing to come off, just moments before those pudgy little sweet-pea toes hit water, should be the diaper.
If you take it off too soon, you are probably just asking for a puddle (or worse…) on your carpet, or your bed, or your outfit, depending on where and how you do things. Even older babies who are starting to control their bladders intentionally sometimes pee on the floor on the way to the bath if there’s too much of a gap between that diaper coming off and getting into the water. It happened to us just the other night, actually, down the side of my nursing chair’s ottoman. Not exactly what I needed at the moment.
Where you normally change your baby can be a good place to take the diaper off, especially if you have to wipe up a poop situation first.
I sometimes like to just bring the diapered baby into the bathroom though and only remove the diaper moments before putting them in.
17 Before: Lay Out The Next Outfit
What you want to avoid, out of necessity, is needing to scramble to grab something for your baby to wear after you’ve finally gotten her clean and dry.
Although in a pinch, you could, of course, pick your baby up in the towel again to go get something for her to wear, newborns, especially, tend to get chilled very quickly.
For us, it’s usually PJs that will be put on after a bath – almost always, actually, as we use the bath as part of our very set and predictable nightly bedtime routine.
If one parent hasn’t yet laid out the PJs before getting the babies into the tub, the other knows to get them set up and ready to go.
Although our little ones are getting to the age where they like to run away giggling to delay bedtime a few minutes longer, this is a habit from ever since they were tiny newborns.
16 Before: Set Up Sudsing Supplies
Just like you don’t want to be caught without a towel (or two, actually, now that I think about it again – one to receive the baby and another for over the top and for drying him off) at the ready for after bath time, you also certainly do not want to get the bath all set up, undress the baby, put him in the tub, and then realize that you don’t have everything that you need to get that little cutie nice and clean.
My own doctor recommends using a gentle baby wash – we use that old name brand that’s been around forever and ever, and it’s always worked well for us.
Besides being sure that you have body wash / shampoo (often one in the same product for babies) right there wherever you’re using an infant tub or at the edge of the bathtub, you’ll need, I’ve found, to have something handy for rinsing. (See below under “During” for specific tips on this.)
15 Before: Test That Temp
Water that’s too hot can burn your little one’s skin. Even being just a bit too hot can be very uncomfortable for a little one’s sensitive skin, and make it harder for them to enjoy the idea of bath time, too, I bet.
If it’s too cold, of course a little baby can get easily and quickly chilled. No Bueno.
That’s why we always, ALWAYS test the water temp before putting our little ones into it.
Run the tap to get it to the temperature you think is about right. Our water can tend to start cold, then get really hot, and sometimes change back again to being a bit cooler, so it often needs some adjustment as it flows out.
Then, test the water that’s actually in the tub yourself, and adjust the temp as needed by adding water (or letting it cool for a while, perhaps). MayoClinic.org says to try for around 100 degrees F.
You can even get cards and other contraptions to test the water if you feel that a tool would make you more comfortable.
I think the human hand works just fine.
14 Before: Try Some Tempting Toys
Some babies don’t really dig the water at first. They’re used to being all bundled up and cozy, and I imagine it can be quite jarring to then be naked and wet and handled this way and that.
I think the first time we gave my baby a bath, there were some tears and a chaos, but by the next time, even our infant had realized that it was kind of nice. (Now we have to convince both our kids to get out!)
Even from a very early age, though, I’d say it’s a great idea to have some sort of distraction at the ready.
Before you start the bath, you could grab a rubber or plastic toy.
Ones that scoop and / or trickle out water are fun, and that little yellow duck is a classic for a reason.
Even an extra washcloth to hold and suck on can be great fun, though.
If the baby is not so stoked on the bath that day, a toy can shift the focus elsewhere and make it fun.
13 During: Top To Bottom
I seriously YouTubed this one – I remember it clearly – when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with my first baby a few years ago.
I didn’t know how to wash a newborn baby!
It seems funny to me now. Like, you just put them in the water and wash them! But I recall how foreign it all seemed before I’d done it every single day for multiple years.
I think a great tip to follow is to work your way down. MayoClinic.org points out that this also helps the already cleansed areas from getting soapy again.
You start with the least dirty places, so the eyelids, face, and so on, and then work your way down to the booty.
12 During: A Soft, Soft Cloth
We like to use a soft little baby wash cloth as a regular part of our babies’ bath time.
Although I (or now that they’re a bit older, my little ones) use my hand with some baby wash for the rest of the body, and of course the hair, I avoid using soap at all on the face.
Instead, a wash cloth saturated with warm water seems the perfect tool for the job.
You can use it to gently remove that sort of discharge or gunk that can tend to collect near the corners of newborns’ eyes. Some people even use a second cloth for the other eye (or at least a different corner of the same cloth) to avoid spreading infection, just in case it’s there.
It’s also the perfect tool for removing any sticky milk or, later, baby cereal or food that has been hiding on the face or under the chin.
Once babies are 6 months old or older and can wear sunscreen, it’s useful for wiping that off at the end of the day.
11 During: Securing Support
I’m talking about support in two forms, here actually. Hear me out.
The first is literal physical support of your baby. This is a skill to be learned, and it can take some getting used to.
How in the world do you hang onto your slippery little baby with one arm while you wash them with the other?
Practice makes perfect.
And also, those little fabric / mesh slings for newborns that hold your infant with the head higher than the rest of the body, which dips into the water. It’s sort of like a little hammock, and it’s awesome for this age. Our plastic infant tub came with a detachable one.
The other “support” that can be crucial, especially for first-time parents of newborns, is to actually have another person (say, Dad, for example) there. They can just act as moral support, or they can hand you whatever you need or receive the baby once you’re all done.
10 During: Cleanse Hidden Creases
It can be dismaying to be drying or dressing your baby and see an area that still looks icky or even smells funky when you just did your best to get her nice and clean.
I found that the armpits, under the chin, and even sometimes the folds of the legs or at the tops of the thighs have a way of hiding. They’re those parts that are just clenched so tightly when a baby is still very young that they don’t get much air and they’re not easy to access.
Using a soft washcloth or just a sudsy hand, you can reach into these hidden pits and folds, or gently lift a baby’s arm or chin up to get at the spot you need to.
9 During: Hustle
A baby’s bath doesn’t need to last that long.
First of all, newborns aren’t usually very dirty.
Sure, bathing them with some regularity can be good, in my experience as a mom of two, to wash those folds and crevices where breast milk, spit-up, and other moisture seem to love to collect and hide, but it’s not like they have smelly sweat or have been rolling around in the mud (just yet).
Also, water can cool off quickly, and babies can get chilled very easily, as is stated at MayoClinic.org (and is clear to any experienced parent).
When starting out, especially, and while getting your little one accustomed to the water and the idea of baths, I’d say work fast, get it done, and move on with your day.
Even if a baby seems to hate it and is crying, it will be over soon and they’ll probably forget all about it right away.
8 During: Have Fun!
I know from experience that it can be intimidating. Even holding and changing a tiny newborn can be quite scary if you just haven’t done it much before.
Add water and weird angles into the mix, and yeah, it can be a lot to tackle!
But try not to forget that the water can be super fun, too!
Many babies (and, ahem, their parents) see this as one of the most joyful and lovely parts of the day.
You get to see the beautiful little creature that you have created in all of her glory.
Warm water can be soothing, and letting limbs float can feel so relaxing.
As babies get older, splashing, dripping, sudsing, and squirting can be an absolute delight.
7 During: Rinse Right
You want to avoid leaving your baby’s skin soapy, as this can cause irritation (so says a pediatrician my own little ones have seen) and also of course just doesn’t feel nice / clean.
Different parents take different tactics for getting baby-wash rinsed off – and keeping it out of a baby’s eyes.
With my first baby, during those newborn times, I think I even just used a wash cloth, which I would dunk in the clean water (or even a separate container of water with no soap at all in it) and then wring out over the area that needed to be rinsed. I liked this because it helped me to really carefully direct where the water was going.
A small toy that could scoop up a bit of water worked OK, too.
My favorite tool, though, is a small pitcher that can pour water wherever I need it. I actually still use the plastic water pitcher they gave me in the hospital when my baby was born!
Cup your hand over the forehead to avoid getting suds in the eyes.
6 After: Right To The Towel
“A wet baby can be easily chilled,” as is written at MayoClinic.org in a guide to bathing a newborn baby.
And so, it’s straight to the waiting towel after baby is brought out of the bath.
We like to use one with a hood on our laps to actually receive the baby into and wrap around them a bit, and then a second small baby towel over the chest and lap, which we then use to do the actual drying off, as well.
The hooded baby towels which are so nice to use to receive them don’t have all that much extra length or width to use to then really pat dry.
5 After: The Pat-Down
We’ve found that gentleness is good, but also that – especially with newborns – you may have to put in a little work and effort to get some crucial areas actually dry.
Adults, I’ve noticed, can kind of just wrap up in a towel and do a general pat-down and then even air dry the rest of the way within a few seconds, but newborns tend to clench their arms tightly against their bodies, and their chins (sometimes many of them… hehe…) tend to rest close to their chests and necks.
If these areas stay damp, they can get stinky and develop rashes and infections, and so in my experience, it can be a good idea to make a point of getting in there with the towel before dressing.
Don’t forget between the toes!
4 After: The Rubdown
Some people like to use lotion frequently and liberally, and surely others don’t.
My rational in using it after every bath for my baby is that she really doesn’t need to be washing in water ever day – it’s a modern convenience that we find to be a nice part of our bedtime ritual.
I figure we’re probably stripping some extra oils away in the process, and so I apply a bit of lotion in a relaxing rubdown before dressing her again after the bath.
MayoClinic.org says that it’s not seen as a necessity, of course: “Most newborns don't need lotion after a bath. If his or her skin is very dry, apply a small amount of unscented baby moisturizer to the dry areas. The massage might make your baby feel good. If dryness continues, you might be bathing your baby too often.”
3 After: Slip Into Something Comfy
Getting dressed rather quickly after drying off can be important for little babies. (Man, just thinking about those tiny newborn or 0 - 3 - month soft cotton PJs makes me melt a little… Awww…)
So be sure to put on those clothes you laid out ahead of time (see the item above) somewhat promptly as one of the final steps to your bath-time routine.
You might even want to consider the temperature of the room before you begin the bath process to keep your little one from getting too chilly.
“Be sure the room is comfortably warm, too. A wet baby can be easily chilled,” says MayoClinic.org.
Newborns may be more comfy with a hat and socks on right away, too.
2 After: Cream Care
I’ve found that when the skin is very clean and very dry, it’s the prime time apply some diaper cream.
I mainly just use it when I know that my babies may be wearing their diaper for an extended stretch without a change – so at night before bedtime, right after their evening bath. (I’ll use it more often than this, throughout the day, of course, if some sort of irritation or rash has developed, along with changing the diaper SUPER promptly.)
I prefer the texture (and smell, too, actually) of the creamier varieties, but I’ve noticed that the more ointment-y types seem to be more widely available in chain stores these days, at least in my neck of the woods.
1 After: A Certain Soothing Something
Like I mentioned earlier, these days, it’s sometimes hard to convince my two little tots that it really is time to get out of the bath. They’ll “swim” and giggle and play in there until the last drop of water has swirled down the drain – and then some.
But it can take a while for newborns to get accustomed to the great fun that bath time can be.
If your little one is still warming up to the idea and has gotten upset during the process – basically, if he’s just kinda over it right after you start or at some point along the way — you can both calm right down afterward by doing something soothing.
For most newborns I’ve ever met, this means nursing.
A bottle, snuggling, or being rocked or swayed in mom’s arms may all do the trick, too.