You can continue with sponge baths for as long as your baby seems to enjoy them. However, anytime after the umbilicus has fallen off and the circumcision (if any) has healed, you can begin bathing your baby in a sink or tub.
Until your baby can sit up on his own (and even long after), you need to hold the slippery devil tightly-or at least keep one hand on him to provide support and safety. In addition, you need to lean over and wash your baby with your other hand, without once relaxing your grip. If you're kneeling by the side of a conventional tub and leaning over the edge, you can strain your back. That's why most parents of newborns bathe their babies in a sink or portable tub.
Most kitchen sinks have the advantage of being at approximately the right height for the average adult to wash a baby (like washing dishes) without significant back strain. They have a ready supply of water (though be sure to swing the spigot away from the sink or cover it with a washcloth to prevent unpleasant bumps). Kitchen sinks often also have the advantage of a sprayer attachment that makes rinsing easy (and, for some babies, fun). If you use a sink, be sure to line the bottom of it with a towel, rubber mat, or the foam-rubber insert from a portable tub to keep your baby's bottom from slipping and sliding.
If you put one foot up on a stool (or open the under-sink cabinets and put one foot on the ledge) while bathing your baby, you will probably feel considerably less back strain.
Portable tubs have the advantage that you can use them anywhere (including outside if weather permits). The need to have access to a source of warm water and the likelihood of considerable splashes and spills, however, make it most practical to set up the portable tub in the kitchen or bathroom. Choose a surface (a kitchen counter, a table, a vanity) where:
- The tub sits securely
- You have plenty of room around the tub for all the essentials (soap, shampoo, towel, diaper, clean clothes, and so on)
- You do not need to strain your back by bending over so much
Come On In! The Water's Fine!
Successful first baths often come down to timing. If you bathe your baby three to four hours after she eats, she may be getting so hungry (and cranky) that she has no patience for the bath. On the other hand, if you bathe her right after she eats, the jostling may make her spit up. Aim for a bathtime between an hour and two hours after a meal. Many parents find that sandwiching bathtime between the evening meal and the final feeding of the day sets up a warm and relaxed atmosphere that makes it easier for the baby to nod off.
If you can, set your water temperature at a maximum of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, when you run a bath (in a sink or tub), always turn the hot water tap off first. That way, if water drips into the tub, it will be cold-which your baby may find unpleasant, but not dangerous.
Before putting your baby in the water-indeed before you even undress her completely-test the water temperature with your elbow to make sure it is comfortably warm. (Don't use your hands as a gauge; they may be less sensitive to heat.) After you test the temperature, undress your baby and, with one hand gripping her thigh and supporting her bottom and the other hand gripping her shoulder and supporting her neck and head, lower her bottom gently into the water. Maintain a secure hold and talk to her in calm tones in order to minimize her startle reaction. If your baby tenses up in the water, continue to hold her securely with both hands until she feels more relaxed. Give her time to get used to it.
Be sensitive to your baby's reactions. If she violently objects to being put in the water, remember that she doesn't have to take a bath. After all, you're not likely to overcome her fears by immersing her in them. Instead, continue giving her sponge baths and try again once a month or so until she feels more comfortable with all that water. If your baby doesn't get upset by the water (or if she calms down after her initial shock), maintain your firm grip on her shoulder (and your support of her head and neck), but release the hand on her thigh.
Now that you have a free hand, you can begin washing your baby. As you did with sponge baths, start at the top and move down. Again, wash and (if you use soap) rinse one part at a time before moving on to the next part. If you soap up your entire baby before rinsing, you're almost sure to lose your grip. A wriggling, soapy baby is like a greased pig: impossible to hold and then impossible to catch.
If the water cools too much while your baby is in the sink or tub, take her out. Because water temperature from a tap can change suddenly, filling or rewarming the sink or tub while your baby is in the water can be dangerous.
Always use two hands to lift your baby out of the tub (Caution: Slippery When Wet). Then immediately wrap her up in a towel. If you're not using a hooded towel, be sure to cover up your baby's head to keep her warm and cozy. Finally, when drying your baby, make sure to dry the many creases and folds in her skin just as carefully as you washed them. Trapped moisture in these creases can lead to a nasty rash.