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How can I encourage bathtime?

My 1-year-old baby hates baths. What can I do?
Submitted by American Baby Team

If your baby suddenly stops liking bathtime, then the reason for her refusal is likely a recent experience that made her afraid. The water may have been too hot and felt uncomfortable in her last bath. Or she may have experienced something scary, like slipping. If your child is really resistant (screams and cries until you take her out), don't worry -- there are plenty of other ways to keep her clean. A warm sponge bath works great, and even a quick once-over with a soaped-up washcloth will get the job done for now. Here are some things you can do to get your baby back into bathtime:
• Don't feel pressured to bathe your baby every day. Unless she's been finger painting or playing outside, every other day is fine when paired with a quick wipe of the washcloth on "off" days.
• Help her feel in control of the washing. Try to engage her by wetting the cloth and helping to clean herself, for example. See if she'll play with water from outside the tub.
• Find ways for her to play and experiment with water, like bathing a toy duckie, to gradually build up her feelings of comfort and security.
If you see your baby feeling more comfortable with water, try the bath again. Bring in lots of toys, squirters, measuring cups, and strainers. To make the bath even more fun, use bubbles and bath paints. Once she's in, read her cues to see if you can figure what bothers her. Is it shampooing that puts her over the edge? Or is it getting out and feeling cold as she towels off? Tweak the bath routine based on your observations. And don't worry about spoiling or coddling your baby by responding this way. This lets your child know that her needs are important and that you provide support to help her cope with life's challenges.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2005. Updated 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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