When we became parents for the first time, we new we faced a different world of parenting to the one our parents raised us in. We had more information, a wider choice of products, but felt like we lacked the confidence of previous generations.
GRASP is all about inspiring confident parents, and nothing fills a new, otherwise confident parent with dread more than bath time!
Bath time is one of those uniquely special moments for a new parent. It’s a chance to bond with your baby, a chance to slow down, turn off distractions and focus on them and them alone. It’s why we look back on these moments with our newborn baby as being so special.
But not every parent feels equipped for bath time. It can be quite a vulnerable time and a bit of a traumatic experience. Our middle child pooped in his baby bath twice – yes, twice! – during his first bath for example. Then there’s the screaming baby who doesn’t want to be in the bath, and then doesn’t want to be out of the bath. And there’s the slipping and sliding as you try to actually wash them.
Fundamentally, bath time is about looking after your baby’s skin. Like adults, skin is our largest organ and it’s easily something we can take for granted. But our skin is the first barrier against infection and brilliant at protecting you from all sorts of harm from the environment around.
Crucially, like so many other parts of their fragile bodies, baby skin is a lot more vulnerable than adult skin. Baby skin is 3-5 times thinner than adult skin, the top layer of baby skin cells are spaced more loosely than adults, baby skin is less naturally moisturising than adult skin, and baby skin is less acidic. Those are big differences! It means that baby skin is far more vulnerable to the world around them and it needs looking after differently.
So bath time matters because you’re taking the time to look after your kids skin. That said, the routine of bath time is often too focused on time in the water than it is on moisturising your baby’s skin and that can actually do more harm for your baby’s skin than good.
Baby’s really don’t need bathing very often. While it can be a lovely, soothing time for you and your baby, you don’t need to be in a rush to bath them too soon or too often.
The good news is, when there’s so much to do with your baby already and so many routines to be mindful of (from getting them dressed, to feeding to making sure they’ve had enough time on their tummy), bath time is one less routine to get stressed about.
When you have a newborn baby the best thing to do with if they’re a little dirty in the creases and folds of their skin is lay them on a changing mat with a towel around them, strip them down and then use warm water (boiled and then cooled if you want to be extra cautious) to wipe them down. This is ‘Top and Tailing’ – so called because you should try and have two separate containers of water to wipe down above and below their waste to avoid spreading bacteria.
This is not something that needs doing often. The most pressing reason to do it is usually because their first Meconium poo is so sticky that you usually need to wash them down with more than just a wet wipe to really clean them up.
But once you’re past the Top and Tailing stage, about when your baby is 4 weeks old, bath times can still be infrequent. Because kids skin dries out more easily than adult skin, it’s best not to give them long bath times often. Water dissolves skin’s natural moisturising factors so it can actually dry out skin and make it more prone to cracking. A bath once a week for a newborn is sufficient.
As your child grows up, you can increase the amount of baths you give them. But there’s still a case for bathing them less than we might otherwise be inclined. Generally, adults in the UK bath more often than is dermatologically recommended anyway. You can bath your kids once or twice a week totally guilt free.
Of course bath time is about than just washing, it’s a time when we connect with our baby and kids, so it might be something you want to do more. In that case, try making bath time less about washing them every time and more about play and conversation. Make it more fun and use less skincare product to protect your baby’s skin.
There’s no right time to bath your baby. If you’re thinking about the best time to start bathing your baby, then it’s best to wait till they are 4 weeks. Before then, Top and Tailing is sufficient to remove any muck in the folds and creases of your baby’s skin – particularly around their neck and nappy area.
But as they grow up there’s no formula for when your baby will most enjoy bath time. The best time is the time that works in the routine of your family life. If bath time is difficult to make time for, you can guiltlessly afford to just bath your kids less. But often families will choose between a morning and an evening (after baby wakes up or before bed) for minimal disruption to the day’s routines – much like any adult.
The advantage of bathing your newborn in the evening is that it acts as a pleasant wind-down before bed. It can be a great routine setter that helps your baby understand that it’s now time for sleep. That can be really effective up till your toddler realises that bath time = bed time and decide to make a fuss about bath time as a result. In those situations, sometimes breaking the routine for a surprise morning bath can be a great way to minimise the fuss of bath time and help keep your baby happy.
How to bathe a newborn
As your baby grows up, bath time becomes a little more straightforward in the sense that you’re not struggling to hold up your baby, wash them and make sure they don’t get too cold. When your kids can sit up in the bath, it’s not hard to pop and grab them their towel, new bath toys or reach for the soap or shampoo you want to use.
But with a newborn, that’s not an option. The best way to avoid the stress of bath time is to be prepared.
Check you have the right bath time products lined up and within arms reach:
- Bath – obviously critical to the whole process. Of course you might bath your kids in the sink, the bath tub or use a portable bath tub on the floor of your bathroom (something we did). Either way, you’re not getting far without a bath tub to put your baby.
- Towel – absolutely essential. Make sure it’s large, soft, ideally hooded and readily available to swoop up your baby when they’ve reached melting down point.
- Sponge – or washcloth of some sort that can be used to wash their skin and get in all the nooks and crannies that need cleaning.
- Skincare essentials – these include a body & hairwash (could be separate shampoo or a 2-in-1 formula), probably no bubble bath for a very young baby, and the best moisturiser you can afford. Moisturiser is really what you want to be thinking about.
- Jug – or some other cup that allows you to pour water to rinse your baby’s hair.
- Optional extras - might include bath time sensory play toys or possibly a temperature checking rubber duck. But these are not essential
Next make sure you are ready for the bath with everything placed and set up. You don’t want to be doing any of these things once you’ve got a naked baby waiting to get in the bath. The longer they're getting cold and not being held, the more the crying takes over. And of course the longer they’re without a nappy, the more chance of bath time becoming messy will become.
- Towel – this needs to be close to hand. Ideally lay it on a soft mat. Or if you’re using something like a Cuddledry towel, get it clipped up on you ready to be used.
- Mat – or some other soft surface that you know you can lay them on to dry and moisturise them comfortably.
- Skincare – get the pump primed, the cap open and make sure you’re comfortable dispensing it one handed onto your waiting sponge / cloth
- Bath sponge or bath brush – close to hand, with soap on, or ready to have soap applied so you’re not faffing about getting it ready. You can even just put it in and leave it in the water.
How to prepare your baby's bath water
Next you to prepare your baby’s bath water. Do this in advance of getting your baby stripped down, but not so early that it’s cold by the time they’re getting in. A bathtime thermometer or just the old elbow trick to check the temperature is right will do. If you have someone else you can ask to double check the temperature before you put the baby in, this always works well. Never put the baby in the bath before running it and never adjust the temperature of the water with the baby in the bath.
How to wash your baby's skin and hair
When it comes to washing your baby’s skin it’s best to pay attention to the folds and crevices where dirt and sweat accumulate. This can be tricky with newborn baby’s, especially when you’re trying to be quick. Sometimes it’s best to just use your fingers to clean neck folds and under arms.
Washing baby’s hair is tricky, and it doesn’t get much easier as they grow up. The fuss and tears (despite what the brands say) of getting soap in their eyes makes the whole situation pretty difficult. With a newborn baby use a very small amount of soap and focus on cleaning the back of their hair (where they tend to spend more of their time laying). When it comes to rinsing take a small cup or jug to pour water from their tub back over their head while keeping one hand at the top of their forehead to try prevent any major splashes into their eyes. If you have a partner who can help bath your baby, it can work well to get them baby out of the bath, wrap them in a towel and have one of you hold them with their head back over the bath while the other person rinses their hair through.
How to get your baby out of the bath and dry them
Getting your baby out of the bath is a bit of slippery task. Pick them up under arms and place them into a waiting towel as quickly as possible. Whether you have a towel in you or your partner’s lap or on a waiting soft surface, make sure you’re able to wrap them up quickly. Baby’s have a much bigger surface area of skin relative to their body weight, about 3 times more than adults. It means they lose heat about 4 times faster than adults. So making sure they don’t spend too much time in cool water and are dried and dressed quickly is important.
To get your baby dry when they get out of the bath, start with a large towel, ideally hooded, that is bigger enough to wrap them in entirely. You’ll want to be able to pick them up once wrapped up to help soothe new babies that are new to bath time, so a large towel makes sure they stay warm, and you also stay dry! Pay particular attention to drying in the folds of baby’s nappy area and other areas where water can stay trapped – under arms, between toes, and of course their hair! Try and keep your baby wrapped up as your dry them, rubbing the towel over their body initially and then keeping them covered with the towel, say over their upper body, while you dry other parts like their legs and arms.
Why moisturising your baby is the most important part of bath time
Moisturising your newborn baby should not be forgotten. It’s tempting with an irate baby expressing their displeasure at being exposed to bath time to just skip to getting them dressed, warm and fed. But moisturising is essential to caring for their skin. Choose a great moisturising lotion or cream – depending on your preference, the dryness of their skin and what part of the body you’re moisturising and make sure you cover them fully. Concentrate in particular on joints – knees, feet, elbows – and faces that are particularly sensitive to dryness. If you have a newborn that is shedding a lot of skin, try using a baby oil, or natural coconut oil to massage into baby’s skin.
When to move your baby out of baby bath tub into a full-sized bath
What tub you bath your baby in is a matter of personal preference, but our guide to the best bath tubs is a great place to walk through what you might need to think about. But bath tubs for new-born baby’s typically won’t be suitable beyond 6-9 months, or at least you’ll need to adapt how you use them. We have used the Shnuggle baby bath tub for each of our kids for example, but when they got to 6 or 7 months, we had to change our usual set up of placing the bath tub on the bathroom floor to bathe them. By that age they were proficient splashers with both hands and feet and we were getting soaked. At that age we transitioned to placing the baby bath tub into our empty bath tub to wash them. It made things a little awkward, but helped transition them from newborn bath time to toddler baths where they could sit without support in a shallow filled regular bath tub.
There are range of first bath essentials for newborn babies that are worth stocking up on. This guide runs through what you might want to consider to make sure you have everything you need to hand before you get baby in the water. While there are a range of preference for what exactly you’ll need, essentially it’s just water, soap, a big, soft towel and a moisturiser, cream or baby oil.
Bath time doesn’t just have to be about washing your kids, there’s plenty you can do to make it more fun. But first, making washing more fun starts with getting your kids involved. Washing your kids doesn’t just have to be something done to them, they can get involved too when they have the right products like our Pebbl bath time brush.Sensory toys for babies are also a great way to develop a range of fine and gross motor skills while also improving your baby’s cognitive development. Try a range of sensory bath play toys and think about how to keep these toys for the bath only to make that time extra special in your kid’s eyes.
As baby’s get older and their awareness of the world around them shifts, they can go through phases of disliking things they previously liked. We love this advice to video your kids enjoying certain foods or having fun in the bath and then showing it back to them when they’re struggling to believe that they do in fact like it. It’s the best evidence they need that they do really like something.
Other reasons your toddler might be going through a phase of disliking bath time is because of sensory over load, or being worried about getting soap in their eyes. Try washing them (or at least their hair) less and allowing bath time to be about more than just getting them clean. Sensory overload might also mean you need to make bath time shorter, add more bubble bath, turn down lights, keep things relaxed and quiet.
While it wont be your first thought with your newborn baby, having one eye on how you want to help your baby develop the skills and routines they need for life is always good practise.
Kids confidence grows through competence, not self esteem. In other words, telling them how to wash or encouraging them ‘that they can do it’, is no match for just getting kids to try new things.
At GRASP we’re all about #DIYKids - teaching kids to take initiative and learn to care for themselves from the get go. Think about it: there's been a huge generation shift towards baby-led weaning in the last few years, teaching kids to pay attention to their appetites and feed themselves in line with what their motor skills allow - why not the same intuitive approach to personal care?
So giving your toddler the tools to start learning about how to take care of their own health and hygiene will engage them more in the process and build great habits from the beginning.