6 Tips for Bathing With Your Baby

A bath with your baby can be the most relaxing bonding experience. Here's how to do it right.

An image of mom holding her baby in a bathtub.
Photo: Getty Images.

As far as memory-making moments for parents with babies goes, it doesn't get much better than bathtime. But while seeing your little one splash and squeal in the tub can be a particularly entertaining experience, bathing can also provide a quiet bonding moment when you do it together.

Think of it as an extension of (or expansion upon) kangaroo care—or the idea that skin-to-skin contact between parent and baby can benefit a newborn's development. And while kangaroo care is most impactful within the first two hours after birth, additional direct contact beyond that timeframe, including bathing with your baby, can continue to provide benefits, including boosted mental development and a smoother experience breastfeeding.

But before you start splashing with your little one, check out these six tips on making your bath time together both special and safe.

Know When To Introduce Your Baby to the Bath

It is important to know when to introduce your baby to the bath. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAC) recommends waiting 24 hours after birth for your newborn's first bath. You also shouldn't immerse your newborn in water until the umbilical cord area, and circumcision (if your baby had one) are completely healed. Before that point, sponge baths should be your go-to cleaning method.

How Often to Bathe Your Baby

While Anna Bruckner, M.D., professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine notes that no definitive studies dictate how often you should bathe a newborn, erring on the side of less is probably best. "Start off with infrequent bathing, roughly once or twice a week," she says. "You can increase the frequency as the baby gets older."

Be Mindful Getting In and Out of the Bath

It's important to add that bathing with your little one can be dangerous if not carefully done. Your best bet: Have a partner or another adult nearby to hand you your baby, and pick them up again, when you're ready to get out. If there are no other adults around to help, be sure that you can safely move your newborn in and out of the tub—avoid standing up and stepping out of the tub with your infant in your arms.

Having everything you'll need already laid out and within arms reach is also a good idea. Remember: never take your hands off your baby while in the bath water. Before you get in the tub, lay out everything you need from washcloths, soap, and towels to diapers, lotion, and clothes. This way, while you're in the bath, you can easily reach what you'll need to wash your baby. And once you're out, you don't have to fumble to get your baby dressed.

Choose the Right Products

Use only sensitivity-tested, baby-specific products in the water and on your baby. "A baby's skin is very effective at absorbing whatever is placed on it," says Lawrence Frank Eichenfield, M.D., chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.

Of course, soap is only a small part of the bathtime process—you'll need to have the right post-bath moisturizing product on hand. "Use a bland moisturizer to help prevent dryness and irritated skin," recommends Dr. Bruckner.

Prepare the Water

"Before you place your baby in the tub, check the temperature by dipping your elbow into the water—it should be warm but not too hot," says Parents adviser Jennifer Shu, M.D., coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn. Keep testing the temp as you go. When it gets too cool, bath time is over. The AAC recommends keeping your home's hot water no hotter than 120° Farenheight and testing the warmth inside your elbow before placing your baby in the water.

Lather, Rinse, and Moisturize

As for how much soap to use, and where to apply it, Dr. Bruckner recommends keeping it minimal. "It's important to remember that the skin barrier in babies is still maturing, which makes them more sensitive to irritants and drying out," she explains. "I recommend using a scant amount of cleanser for the dirty areas, such as the diaper."

Also, be sure to cradle your baby's head with one arm while you bathe them with the other—and also ensuring you're steady in the tub as well.

Again, don't step up and out of the tub with your little one in your arms after rinsing off. If you have a partner or another adult nearby, hand them the baby first. If you're alone, make sure you can safely remove your little one from the tub without standing up and stepping out of the bath while holding them. Finally, dry your baby thoroughly and wrap them in a towel so they retain body heat, ensuring all creases are water-free, before applying any lotion and diapering and dressing.

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