When Is Your Baby Ready for the Bathtub? (Baby Bathtub Tips)
When you first lay eyes upon your newborn baby, all you want to do is love them and take care of them. You want to make sure your little one is well-fed, warm, and of course, clean.
But don’t rush into bath time without first learning how to bathe your baby. Over the first year of your baby’s life, you will need to transition from sponge baths to the baby bathtub to the big bathtub.
Learn how to safely keep your baby clean and when your baby is ready for the big bathtub.
Sponge Baths for Your Newborn Baby
When you bring your little one home, they will most likely still have a stump from their umbilical cord. To reduce the risk of infection, it is important to only give your baby sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off and heals completely.
To give your baby a sponge bath, lay them safely on top of a towel on a surface such as a changing table. Prepare a bowl of warm water (not hot water) and use a washcloth to gently pat your baby all over, taking care to clean between any folds of skin.
Soap is mostly unnecessary for newborns. It can irritate or dry out your baby’s skin, which is quite sensitive. If you do use soap, use a mild type and use it sparingly.
After washing your baby with the washcloth, you can fold them up swaddle-style in a fresh towel. If your baby has hair on their head, gently rub it dry.
Note: You don’t have to rush to give your baby their first bath. The waxy substance called ‘vernix’ that covers your baby’s skin at birth is beneficial, and should be rubbed in, not washed off.
Bath Time in the Baby Bathtub
Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off (usually before your baby reaches a month old), you can start using an infant tub or a baby bathtub. Small tubs that don’t leave much room for falling around are best. You can place these inside the sink or the big bathtub.
- Before you bathe your baby, set everything up ahead of time. You need the baby bath tub to be in place, lined with a towel to prop your baby up more comfortably and keep them from slipping around.
- Lay out a fresh towel that you can transfer your baby to for drying. You want the towel to be right next to the tub so that you can transfer safely. A wet baby may be slipperier than you’d imagine.
- Have the towel open and ready so that you can put the baby on top of it and then wrap them up. It’s a good idea to have a few extra towels and a bath mat on hand, just in case.
- Now it’s time to fill up the bathwater. Make sure that the water temperature is warm enough to be comfortable; it should not be hot. Set the thermostat on your water heater to lower than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) to prevent burns to your baby's skin.
- Place your baby inside. Try talking or singing to them as you gently wash them with a soapy washcloth - bathtime is a great exercise in bonding with your baby. Take care to clean between folds on skin.
- When washing your baby’s face, be careful not to get any soap into their eyes. You should wash their face with water only. Use a gentle soap on your baby’s body.
- Use baby shampoo on your baby’s hair. Avoid pouring water over your baby’s head when rinsing, and instead use your hands or the washcloth to carefully rinse off any soap.
- When it’s time to dry off, put your baby down onto the towel you have ready. Wrap it around them like you would a swaddle, but a bit looser. If you hold your little one like this for a little while, they will be dry and warm soon.
Other Ways to Bathe Your Baby
Some babies just do not like the infant tub. There are a few alternatives that might be a better fit for your baby’s bath time.
Using a Baby Bath Seat
If your baby cannot sit up unassisted, you may be able to use the baby bath seat inside your big bathtub. This is best for babies who can sit up with some assistance, such as in a bouncer.
The bath seat keeps your baby in place and upright while you wash them off.
Taking a Bath With Your Baby
If your baby is resisting the baby bath tub, it may be because they crave physical closeness with you. Consider taking a bath with your baby.
- Firstly, set up a safe place to transfer your baby to after the bath. Consider enlisting your partner or another adult to help you with this step, because babies can be very slippery.
- Next, fill your bath, being mindful of the water temperature. Get into the bathwater and sit with your knees bent and legs together. Have your partner place your baby onto your thighs, facing you. You can also start with the baby in a baby seat next to the bathtub if you are doing the transfer yourself.
- Your baby should not be submerged in the bathwater. Your body heat will keep them warm. Wash and rinse your baby before transferring and then toweling them off.
How to Bathe Your Baby in the Big Bathtub
When your baby can sit up unassisted, they are ready for the big bathtub. They should be comfortable sitting up. If they are still toppling over, they are not ready.
You can also wash your baby in the kitchen sink—some little ones feel safer in the smaller space and you may prefer standing to kneeling on a bathmat.
When you first start bathing your baby in the regular bathtub, you only need a few inches of water. Keep the room warm so your baby does not catch a chill. You can add more water as your little one gets used to the big bathtub.
Make bath time fun. Get a few simple bath toys like a rubber duck or a toy boat to start. Less is more—one to three toys will do it.
After you dry your baby off, you can use baby lotion if their skin seems dry. If you notice any rashes, reach out to your pediatrician.
- You should be within an arm's reach of your baby and actively watching them at all times. Make no exceptions to this - drowning can occur in a very short period of time in an inch of water. Interacting with your baby by washing, singing songs, or playing with bath toys is a good way to maintain supervision.
- Always make sure that your water heater is set to lower than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) to prevent burns to your baby's skin.
- Consider a faucet cover to prevent your baby from bumping their head on the spout.
How Often Do Babies Need a Bath?
Babies only need a bath about three times per week. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bathing your baby more often is unnecessary and can dry out their skin.
If you want to make bath time part of your baby’s bedtime routine, skip the soap about four times per week.
Enjoyed this article? Check out ‘Where Should Newborns Sleep?’ next!
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families.