When it comes to knowing how often you should bath your new born baby, especially as a first time parent, it can all seem very intimidating.
You're already struggling to do everything - changing nappies, changing clothes (either from sick or poop explosions), feeding, sleeping (sleeping yourself). If you've got other kids, you've got to think about what they're eating, playing, wearing and a myriad of other details.
It can already feel like there are not enough hours in the day, and then there's this business of bathing to think about on top of everything else.
'How often should I bath my baby?'
This is the question that changes as your children grow up. The purpose of what bath time is all about, the time it takes, and your involvement needs to adjust as your kid’s personal hygiene needs change. That makes it harder to pin down exactly what you should be doing when, and why it all matters.
We've been there. We still don't get it right and definitely err on under-bathing our kids (put another way, we worry we don't bath our kids enough!). But here are some helpful confidence boosting tips to help ensure bath time stays fun and does what it's supposed to do for you, your kid and your kid's skin.
1.There's no rule about how often to bath your baby
Most adults in the UK today shower too often according to dermatologists, with most of us showering at least once a day. It wasn't always that way. Washing yourself wasn't the daily routine it has become now.
People were happy just smelling a bit more and that was okay because it was the same for everyone else in your life. That’s not to say we should go back to once a week or fewer baths and showers, but it is a helpful reminder that much of what we do is shaped more by our expectation of what’s acceptable to everyone else, rather than really doing what we think is right.
Now, most of us won’t be thinking about washing our kids as often as we do ourselves with good reason. We know that new-born babies, toddlers and young children don't sweat, or smell the way we do as adults so are often quite happy for our kids to go a few days without washing. In fact dermatologists recommend our kids wash more infrequently.
But as a podcast interview with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis uncovered, some of us are happy to keep bath times to an absolute minimum with our kids. As these things do when it comes to our kids and what’s best, it created quite the storm.
But there is no rule when it comes to how often you bath your kids, and there's certainly no real minimum. Unlike brushing your teeth where your teeth have no natural defence against bacteria and plaque build-up, there are genuine benefits to allowing your kid’s natural skin defences to guard against unwanted bacteria.
There is certainly comfort to be found that in a busy schedule, you don't need to be worrying as much about whether your kids have had a bath in the past few days. Save that energy for worrying about something useful... like whether that time they bumped their head on the table is the reason why they're unable to sit through a reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
2. Yes, it's possible to over wash your baby, toddler or young children
If there's no minimum number of baths per week to be worried about, should you be concerned that you're over washing your baby or young children?
The short answer is yes. We all know when we've been in the bath too long. That familiar sight of prune like finger-tips and toes is always a reminder that we've been in the bath too long.
We wrote more about why this happens here with a bit more of a deep dive into the science behind skin's natural moisturising factors. But to keep it short, over-washing can reduce the amount of the MNFs at work and end up leaving skin dryer and therefore more prone to damage.
Baby's skin is particularly vulnerable to over-washing because it carries less MNFs. It's already more vulnerable to drying out and needs extra moisturising protection, so over-washing through daily baths can lead to dryer, more vulnerable skin.
If you're looking for a reason to cut down the number of baths you give your little ones or are just worried that you're not bathing your kids enough, this is possibly the most helpful part point to note. Give yourself a break and let your kid’s skin do some of the work.
3. But older kids need baths more regularly than little babies
As your kids get older their skin and hair does need more attention. We sweat more, hormones change, and we smell worse.
We know this as adults, and we probably all went through some pre-teen / teenage embarrassment where we realised we didn’t smell great or our hair was greasy. These changes start happening as kids approach puberty and it drastically changes the way we approach bath times and personal hygiene with kids.
For a start, baths and showers will probably become more regular, focusing particularly on washing well after they’ve done lots of physical activity. That can take some adjustment and can lead to a battle of wills as kids discover yet another thing to incorporate into their lives that takes them away from doing what they want to be doing.
The other challenge in this time is passing over the reins on who does the washing and drying. As a parent, you start by doing everything for your young baby when it comes to bath time, but at some point that has to end. You have to help them take ownership of their own personal hygiene. That’s something that takes time and it means starting to teach them the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of looking after their skin from a young age. You don’t want to only be starting to do this at the point when they suddenly need to be washing every other day. That will create a lot of work.
This is the motivation behind GRASP. Teaching kids skin-dependence, involving them in the conversation and actions of bath time routines like washing bodies and hair, drying themselves thoroughly, and moisturising.
It’s an essential part of the journey of growing up. And while it sounds challenging, in the long run it will make things easier. Managing more baths and showers as your kids grow up is daunting, but teaching them more independence will allow you to step back as they get older.
4. Bath time is about more than washing
Even if babies and toddlers need fewer baths than we might have thought, regular bath times for new borns and toddlers can be about more than just washing their skin and hair.
Bath time is a moment of connection with focused time and attention away from the other routines of life. There’s something unique about the experience as a parent that we instinctively want to keep hold of even if we don’t have to go through the routines of washing every time.
In fact, taking the pressure off whether you’ve gone through the pain of trying to rinse shampoo out of their hair means you can actually make regular bath times more about the experience of play and connection. Even as kids grow up – and especially when you have other children – baths can become an important time to connect one-to-one and it often leads to deeper conversations that go beyond ‘what did you do today?’.
One of the hardest things parent’s find is actually when young children fall out of love with their regular bath time. When pre-schoolers and young children start protesting the essentials of looking after their skin and hair, it can be difficult not just because you’re struggling physically to wash them, but because of those lost moments of connection.
If you’re struggling with a little one that isn’t enjoying bath time, reducing the number of baths and bringing in more novelty to the time might actually make the whole experience more enjoyable. Introducing new toys, saving a story for while they’re in the bath or just allowing them more freedom to splash and have fun can have them falling back in love with bath time.
So what does all that mean?
- Worry less about whether you’re bathing your little ones often enough
- Over washing is more of a concern for baby’s skin so ditch the soap sometimes and see what else bath time can be good for
- Use bath time for connecting with your kids one-to-one
- Start teaching young kids about looking after their own skin and enjoy the responsibility they’ll take as they grow up
- Older kids need more regular baths or showers focused on washing skin and hair, but don’t worry if it’s not a daily routine.
- And most important, go with your gut and do what’s right, not what you’re worried other people would say to do.