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Bathing baby

by Sarah Horrocks Published on 9 July 2008

Bath time is an important measure of hygiene for little ones but it’s also a time for bonding and making baby feel happy and confident in the water. What safety measures should you take, and what do you do if your baby is afraid of water? Here's our guide.

Frequency
We tend to wash babies too often, and this can lead to allergies. Ideally, bathe your baby every two days, morning or evening depending on sleep pattern. Allow time after the bath to spend time with baby; this is better than quick daily baths. Baths help babies relax and sleep peacefully.

Fear of water
Some babies love water. Others aren't so sure. Usually the sensation of water is familiar because baby will have, after all, just spent 9 months in the womb surrounded by amniotic fluid! However, sometimes babies resist for the first few weeks and bathtime can become a real test. It can take just one bad experience (over hot or cold water, soap in the eyes etc.) for water to become associated with an unpleasant memory. And if babies ever feel unsafe or unsupported in the water this can create feelings of insecurity.
This is why it’s essential to be firm and confident when holding baby to reassure him or her. Start with short baths (around 5 minutes long) then lengthen them as baby gets more at ease.

Preparation
- Heat the room before bathtime. The ideal temperature is 22-23 degrees. Run the bath before putting baby in so you don't leave him or her waiting in the cold or scare them with the noise of running water. The water should be around 36-37 degrees. Check it with a thermometer or your elbow.
- If baby's changing table or mat is in another room, place a thick towel or changing mat close to the bath tub so that you can undress and dry baby on the mat. You won't have to carry a wet baby and worry about dropping him or her. Go for hard plastic baths that are the right size for your baby.
- Keep everything within easy reach while baby is in the bath. Prepare a little basket of soap, shampoo, towels, clothes, clean nappies, toys etc. Pop water-friendly toys in the bath to distract, entertain and turn bath time into a game.
- Soap. Use hypoallergenic, soap-free or special baby wash, preferably a parabin-free one (parabins are thought to be cancerous). Opt for gentle shampoo that won't sting baby's eyes. Avoid using anything but water for the first two weeks on their precious delicate skin. Even the most sensitive of products can irritate.

Bath time
- First, tell baby it’s bath time and explain in body language what's going to happen.
- Apply soap or gel, either on the changing mat or in the water. While undressing baby and applying soap, stay in firm contact with your baby to reassure him or her: one hand on the stomach or forehead. Use bath time as an exercise in naming body parts and get baby to join in. Soft gloves are good to use but sponges are bacteria magnets. Wash the folds of baby's skin well and pay attention to the head. Babies sweat a lot until they reach 3 or 4 months.
- Don't wet baby's face so as not to cause distress. To wash baby's hair, simply run your hands through it and keep the water from running over the face - leave the face till last.
- Your movements need to be soft and gentle but firm. Your baby will trust you. Be careful to always support baby’s neck (with your left arm if you are right handed) while baby is in the tub. You can wet the back of your baby's neck little by little to get him or her used to the water.

Vigilance
Keep your eyes on your baby at all times. Don't ever pop out to fetch toys or soap or answer the phone. Babies can drown in 15cm of water in only a few seconds.

After the bath
- Dry baby carefully, patting with a towel. Ideally, get a bathrobe with a hat so that baby doesn’t get cold around the head.
- If your bathroom is well heated, massage your baby with unperfumed oil. You might want to apply protective hydrating cream after each bath.

by Sarah Horrocks

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