They splash happily in the tub, giggling, getting sudsy, and playing together. But there was a time not too long ago at all when I was giving my very first (ever!) baby bath.
Yep, sure, now my two toddlers and I are old pros at this whole thing. We choose to do it every night as part of our bedtime ritual of sorts. It’s what works for us.
A few years back, though, and there I was, googling around trying to prepare my pregnant self for the sudsy, slippery reality ahead.
It truly can just be a bit intimidating! And that’s okay. Sure, a newborn might seem fragile, and it might take a bit of practice and extra care as you first figure out how to get bath time done, happily and safely, at that.
But with a little practice and perhaps a few tips, you’ll be splish-splashing your way to a clean, comfy baby in no time.
Based on all the stuff I’ve tried, liked, and not over the last handful of years, I’ve put together a little list to get you started.
One way to put it? If mom isn’t doing 10 of these 20 things, she might wanna rethink how she washes the baby.
20 Checking Those Pits
And now, my armpit story.
If you don’t make sure that under those pudgy little sausage arms gets plenty clean and completely (as I touched on earlier) dry, you might have an unpleasant, rashy situation on your hands.
Perhaps you’ll be breastfeeding or changing your baby and smell something that makes you pause and say, “Huh… Something smells sort of like a dirty sock or never-washed belly button…”
After checking with the doc and googling around for pictures, I saw how common it was for a red, kind of raw-looking area of skin to develop in the baby’s armpits, with those arms clenched down so tightly so much of the time.
Allowing airflow as possible, and possibly an over-the-counter cream, may help a rash. (Ask the doc.)
19 Gathering That Gear!
Before tiny toes ever break the surface of that water, there are actually quite a few steps that pretty much must be taken care of.
Once that baby is in that bath, you have to be there keeping them secure, for safety, so there’s no running to grab this or that thing that you might need.
And so first, boldly bathing mamas, gather thy gear.
It might not be all that complicated: wash cloths, towels, baby wash, tub or insert… Whatever you’ll use during the bath.
And maybe it’s even as simple as just keeping a supply of all this stuff in the bathroom or wherever you do the baths, and just checking that you have everything each time. That’s how we do it.
18 Doing Drying Diligence
I remember how easy it was for moisture to get sort of yuckily stuck in certain areas, especially when my two babies were newborns or still very young babies.
It’s just that they tend to have their arms and legs sort of held in tight. And then they are often clothed and wrapped up, too, sometimes spending a lot of time in those fleecy synthetic PJs that are cozy but don’t allow a lot of airflow.
So I found out, after a rash or two, to really focus on getting even those hiding spots completely dry before dressing. I like having one towel underneath to receive the baby from the water and one to use to actually dry everywhere.
17 Testing The Water
This is one of the most basic points, but so important that I figured we needed to cover it.
You always, always have to test that water before putting your baby into it.
Where I live, the water coming out of the faucet can actually change temps multiple times while it’s running, even if the faucet isn’t adjusted. It might, for example, get hotter as it runs for a while, or change when a neighbor is showering or has stopped.
Once the water has adequately filled the tub, I just use my own hand to test because that’s what works for me. I try to err on the side of a bit cooler than I would want to bathe myself, just because I know baby skin can be sensitive.
I know that there are little testers / thermometers you could use if you felt you needed a tool, too.
16 Caring About Cleanser
This tip comes straight from the doctor’s mouth — from a pediatrician at the office my little ones go to, anyway.
She noticed that my baby, as with many she’d seen, appeared to have somewhat sensitive skin, and so she wanted to make sure to note that we needed to be careful to use a soap-free cleanser (and rinse thoroughly).
Concerned that maybe we needed to try out something different, I checked with the regular pediatrician we scheduled visits with, and he was pretty casual about the whole thing, explaining that most cleansers for babies are this (including that classic yellowish one with the subtly sweet scent).
15 Washing With A (Very Soft) Cloth
During my days spent pregnant for the first time, when I was searching around online for tips about how in the world to wash a baby, I remember clearly seeing a YouTube video where the woman demonstrating explained to use a soft washcloth to clean over the eyelid, working from the inner corner out. I believe they even recommended using a separate cloth for each eye (I suppose to prevent the spread of any possible infection).
And then I found that babies do indeed sometimes have some serious sleepy dust or eye gunk going on (check with the pediatrician if it doesn’t seem normal).
But the cloth is way handy for other stuff, too, such as getting into the creases or, later, removing sunscreen.
14 Having Fun With It!
From my personal experience, I’d recommend (even if you are a bit nervous at first) trying your best to enjoy it. Make it a fun thing!
What a joy to care for your very own little baby in this way!
And really, it probably isn’t all that much about actually getting the baby clean, especially a newborn.
Instead, as you give early baths to help a baby get used to the water and simply have the experience, I think if you can loosen up and have a relaxed attitude (but of course still be careful), it can only help it to go well.
Plus, is it just me, or don’t babies seem to sort of sense fear? All about that vibe.
13 Trying Something Else
Is anyone else out there, like me, sort of a creature of habit, as they say?
When I get on the path of doing something a certain way, I sort of just stick with it.
But one thing that having babies, in general, has inspired me to do is to sometimes pause and consider if there might be a better way. Is there some way I’m sort of working against myself, or something I could change to make it all a bit easier?
Let me explain. Are you not loving leaning at that awkward angle over the tub? Maybe try washing the baby in the sink instead, or using a baby bath on the floor.
You might at first mix things up until you find something that’s comfortable, from where you do the baths to the supplies you use and beyond — and then give it all another rethink once the baby is a bit older and bigger, too.
12 Thinking About The Room Temp, Too
I always run quite a bit warmer than my little ones. Surely body mass, metabolism, and the ability to regulate that temp are all a factor, but in any case, I know that it’s true that babies can quite easily get chilled.
Note, for example, how one of the first things nurses do for a newborn is cover that head with a little-knit cap to avoid body heat being lost.
And so, since you’ll be undressing your babe and getting her wet, first make sure that the room is warm enough.
Even if you work fast afterward, a chilly environment might quickly make a little one too cold.
11 Carefully Cupping
It’s just not pleasant to get soap in your eyes. Even very gentle baby cleansers can be irritating, and some babies are very uncomfortable (at certain points, sometimes in phases, in my experience) with even water getting in their eyes or running over their faces.
It can be startling and unpleasant.
I find that simply having the head at a bit of a backward angle and using one hand to cup over the forehead does a good job of keeping suds and water out of my little ones’ eyes.
Now that they’re a bit older, I’ve trained them to “lean back!” when it’s time to rinse, to avoid those tears.
10 Making It Fun For *Them*
As we already mentioned, it can really be all about the person giving the bath having a good attitude, and an extension of this, I’d say, is trying your best to make it fun for them, too.
Even newborns can take in the sights, sounds, and sensations of water trickling out of a measuring cup or dripping from a squeezed washcloth.
I make many daily activities more fun (or simply get through them, some days) by helping my babes enjoy it with a song or a rhyme, which I of course just make up as I go — to their extreme delight.
Show them how to splash! Do it with a smile. Amid any intimidation you might feel, I bet you can still find ways to make it fun, even for a young baby.
9 Provoking Participation
One of the first things I remember my second baby saying, with her arms reaching straight out toward me and her palms facing upward, was, “hands!” as she requested that some baby wash be squirted onto them so she could join into the sudsing fun.
Although small babies might still be quite a ways off from the “all by myself!!!” insistence of the toddler years, it can still be way more fun if they get to participate.
Would your newborn like to see some water trickling down as you pour it? Would your baby enjoy a wet washcloth to hold or suck on as you do the washing?
Encouraging my babies to join in making it more fun for everyone, and they quickly learned to love lathering and washing themselves.
8 Using A Helpful Hammock
The infant bathtub I bought was pink, plastic, and came with a few items that I really came to appreciate.
Sure, there were some small plastic toys that could be used to pour or sprinkle water, but what I am really not sure I could have lived without in those early months was what I would describe as a little sort of hammock.
It is a water-resistant-fabric sling, which can be attached to the top edge of the tub, providing a place for a newborn to rest somewhat supported, with the bottom and some of the body in the warm water beneath and the head angled up.
Of course, I still had to keep a hand on my newborns, but before they could sit on their own, this was a really handy tool in figuring out how to even have them in the water and wash them.
7 Enlisting Help
The other thing I did as I approached the early baths, with both of my babies, was to make sure I tackled them at a time that my husband was also there.
I think I ended up actually doing it, mostly, or perhaps he stepped in with some rinsing help here or there (and later would give many of the baths himself), but it just seemed reassuring to have a helper there in case I needed him.
He could hand me this or that, bring more fresh water from the faucet for rinsing, and help me clean up afterward.
Even if it’s just for moral support, having another set of hands and someone to assist and reassure you might really help.
6 Being Ready For Right Afterward
Just as important as gathering what you’ll need during the bath, in my book, is getting ready anything that you’ll need for immediately afterward.
Newborns can cool down quickly, so getting them diapered and dressed right after you get them dry can be important.
Plus, newborns will likely be getting tired or hungry again and need to move on quickly from that whole bath thing.
We’ve gotten into a routine where, usually, whoever is not giving the actual bath lays out PJs, wipes, lotion, and diaper cream (myself or the hubs).
You don’t want to be in a situation where you need to go grab something. Newborns can roll unpredictably, and toddlers may run off giggling… It’s just much easier this way.
5 Scheduling Something Soothing
If babies don’t yet love the idea of being wet and washed and all that, they might want something soothing right after the whole ordeal is over, maybe just nursing for newborns, or reading together for any age.
But the reason I like to transition to something relaxing or restful right after bath time, to this day, with my little ones is that we use bath time as the first step in our process of beginning to (hopefully) wind down for bed.
It’s part of our predictable routine, helping them to know what to expect, what’s next, and giving them the cue to start shifting toward sleepy-time mode.
We do PJs, then snuggle as we read and sing, then brush their teeth, then tuck them in bed.
4 Tinkering With Timing
Now that I’ve said all that about the shift to relaxation mode, I should mention that I met a mom outside toddler dance class a while back who mentioned that after talking to her child’s doctor, she realized that baths were not relaxing and peaceful at all for her little girl, and in fact seemed to sort of work against her as she tried to help her babe to be ready for sleep.
Her doctor’s theory was that the warmth can actually make some kids less relaxed and comfortable. I’d venture that of course some kids just get all riled up splashing and playing around in there, too.
So it’s something to perhaps at least consider: Is there a better time to wash that babe? Maybe the whole bedtime ritual element doesn’t work for them, or maybe it’d make more sense after a messy meal for an older baby or dirty play time.
3 Making Mom Comfortable
It may feel like everything is about that little baby the moment they’re born, but here’s a lesson I think moms have to, inevitably learn: It has to be about making things work for Mom, too.
I’d say it’s a good idea to keep in mind that there are things you can do to make baby bath time more pleasant or just straight-up easier for yourself.
Can you avoid doing it when you’re stressed, tired, or flustered? If you can be ready to face any mood the baby might be in and stay calm and in control, I’d say it can only help.
Keep that good vibe going. Don’t make it unnecessarily hard on yourself.
Here’s an idea that worked great for us for a long time: It might even be nice / easier to just join them in the regular tub!
2 Not Overdoing It
Now that I’m of mom-ing age, I really understand what I’ve been hearing all these years about how easy it is to overdo washing and sort of strip your skin of the oils that it actually needs.
Yes, gone are those times of worrying about any oiliness, and it’s hello to daily moisturizer.
And so it’s easy for me to understand when I read or hear from my kiddos’ doc that a daily bath really isn’t necessary, especially for a very young baby.
We liked starting young, anyway, about as soon as the umbilical cord stump fell off and that tummy could safely be submerged in water (said the doc), but this was mainly to get into the habit and start a soothing little routine.
And we’re sure to moisturize after baths, too.
Now that I’ve got toddlers, I am often actually removing dirt, food, and sunscreen (and glitter… lots of glitter…), but I’ve always tried to keep in mind that there’s no need to overdo it with baby washing, in order to avoid skin dryness or irritation.
1 Doing Just A Wipe-Down
Yeah, sure, “washing” that babe may mean putting her into warm water and sudsing up, but much of the time, it might be much simpler.
I find that, in some cases instead of an actual bath and quite often in between baths, using a warm washcloth for a wipe-down totally does the trick.
Really and truly, even when I had a 6-month-old covered in yogurt, or dripping in spit-up, I rarely saw it as the time to fill up the tub, as a change of clothes and a thorough wipe-off was usually plenty good enough, getting that little babe clean — until the next mess struck.
The early weeks with a newborn are the other main time to consider the wipe-down as a good “washing” alternative before the umbilical cord stump (which can’t be submerged in water) has separated.
Reference: This one mom-of-two’s experience.