Many of my clients are anxious about giving their baby the first bath at home. I have a great method that is easy for them to do and does not stress out the baby. I teach it to both parents (if there are 2) at the same time as it is best for them to do it together the first few baths. I do have a few things I share with them prenatally and before we begin the first bath.
It is best not to have a bath done in the hospital even though most of our hospitals are not offering a bath till 24 hours after the birth. I explain that the vernix is an anti-world protectant and lasts for up to 2 weeks on the baby and does not need to be scrubbed off. If the baby’s head is goopy from the birth, swaddle the baby and rinse their head off in the sink.
The umbilical cord can get wet as long as it is patted dry but if parents wait until 10 days to 2 weeks before bathing, the cord is usually gone by then.
Newborns do not need to be bathed more than once a week. A bath may be needed more often for a baby that spits a lot as that sour milk may accumulate in the neck folds and behind the ears. If the baby has a sour smell around their neck and head, time for a bath. Use a mild soap (I say do not put anything on a new baby that you would not eat!). I give them some suggestions for organic, natural products that are readily available. They can also use a lotion or oil if they want as this is a good time to do a little baby massage. I also let them know if the bath becomes part of the night time routine, they can do it more often, just don’t use soap more than once a week as it can be drying to an infant’s sensitive skin.
Now for the bathing technique:
First, set up everything you need on the kitchen counter…
- Bath towel to put the baby’s towel on so it is a softer surface
- Soap and shampoo
- Diaper and wipes
- Washcloth (I just use my hands but use a washcloth to cover baby boy’s penis so pee does not get all over the kitchen!)
- Baby bath tub that fits in the sink or on the sink (I like the cheapest one with the little sling.)
Turn on the water and adjust the temperature to be between 98.6 and 100 degrees, not too cool and not as hot as the parents might like their showers. Make sure the water will stay the same temp throughout the bath…no toilet, washer or dishwasher running that could cause the temp to change. Open the drain plugs in the tub so the water runs through.
The goal is to have the water running over the baby’s core as much as possible during the bath. As long as the baby stays warm, they are pretty calm and not crying. When you first put them in the bath, they may fuss a bit, but you can talk to them calmly and let them know how nice the water feels and they usually calm down. Continue to speak calmly to the baby for the duration of the bath.
Tell the parents one person is in charge of the water and keeping it on the baby’s core except to rinse off soap, always coming back to the core. The other parent is in charge of soap, starting at the head and working their way down, having the other rinse each area as they go. No need to wash the baby’s face, run your hand over it and hold a hand on their forehead to minimize the amount of water that runs over the face. Remember, the baby holds their breath as soon as water gets on their face. I mention not to use too much soap on baby girl’s genital area as it could wash away the protective, good bacteria and to make sure they get behind the baby’s ears and in all their folds and crevices. Once the baby’s front is done, turn the baby to the side and wash their back in the same manner, always getting the water back to the core as soon as possible.
Once all areas are washed, move the water back to the core for a few more seconds. Don’t turn the water off until baby is lifted out. Immediately wrap them in the dry towel and then hold them for a bit. Once they seem calm and more relaxed, put them down to dry them off, covering the top of the body while drying the bottom parts and then cover the bottom to do the top parts. As long as the baby does not get chilled, they remain calm and don’t cry most of the time.
While parents are doing the bath, I stand back and coach them and don’t help with the process. This helps build their confidence and helps them to feel better about doing the bath on their own.
About the Author
Carolyn is a mother, a grandmother, and former elementary school teacher who grew up in a very large family, caring for babies from an early age. In addition to a BA in Elementary Education, she has a Masters in Applied Communication. Carolyn has many years of experience in adult education; teaching marketing, public speaking, memory techniques, and neuro linguistic programming topics. She has pursued a variety of interesting and rewarding careers in addition to teaching that include retail management, marketing, public relations, and interior design. Everything Carolyn has done before led her to finding her true passion in this doula work. “I see it as making a huge difference in the world of families and babies, as well as making a difference in our present and future world.” She is committed to sharing and teaching the experiences and information she has learned, making doula services more available to more families.