How to: bathe a baby

This post was eaten by BT a week ago! In the intervening time, we have been bathing Pip daily and I’m pleased to report that it has gradually become less stressful for all concerned. Mr Cath and I can now even bathe him by ourselves (initially, we needed each other there for moral support!) and we all are starting to – whisper it while touching wood – enjoy the little ritual.

We celebrated Pip’s one month birthday on 10th August by giving him his first bath using products. The hospital told us to just use water up until this point so we followed their instructions to the letter, although I’m sure it would have been fine to break out the soap before this! After researching all sorts of lovely organic things, I’ve gone for good old Johnson & Johnson (couldn’t resist the Asda baby event…) – he already has rashes/baby acne so hopefully it can’t get any worse! In fact, since starting to wash him “properly”, the spots seem to be clearing up nicely.

There is so much conflicting advice out there about how and when to bathe your baby. Some hospitals, like Elly and Elphie’s, give you a tutorial on the topic and you have to actually give them a bath before you can be discharged. Others, like ours, believe the umbilical cord stump should not be immersed in water until it has dropped off and fully healed – before this, you should just top and tail. Not that they told us how to top and tail either – they really didn’t tell us anything: our first foray into cleaning Pip involved propping up our baby book and reading out what to do (now it all just seems like common sense but when you are sleep deprived and don’t know what you’re doing, any guidelines at all are invaluable! We would probably have missed out his ears otherwise…) Here is a video from Gurgle demonstrating topping and tailing and then bathing:

Some say give a bath daily, others weekly, with everything in between. I think ultimately you have to do what suits your baby. Some love being bathed and some scream throughout! Pip is still on the fence about this one. When he is just lying in the warm water he seems to quite enjoy it. It’s the parts before and after the bath itself that are challenging! Many babies don’t like to be exposed and Pip is one of them (along with Elphie) – the worst bit is lifting him out at the end and trying to dry him as quickly as possible so he doesn’t get too cold. It’s essential to get a nappy on him immediately as having a bare bottom might well equal a wee fountain! He’s also not keen on being manhandled (i.e. washed) although the sounds he makes during this are more weak protests than outright indignation. I’ve found that enthusiastic talking and singing throughout the process helps distract him and seems to make it more enjoyable…

How to actually bathe a baby seems to involve more wrapping and unwrapping than Christmas. We have three hooded towels from Mothercare that all get used at each bathtime! Theoretically you should only need two – one to wrap round initially while you wash their hair then dry the baby after the bath, and a fresh one to cuddle him in afterwards. However, following the first traumatic couple of baths when Pip soiled the first towel in between taking his nappy off and putting him in the bath, I like to keep a spare towel available and of course it invariably gets used anyway as the other towels get splashed (at least the poos have ceased for now!)

There is plenty of guidance online that describe how to bathe a baby; we are still feeling our way into the most efficient and enjoyable way of doing things but I found helpful advice on the NHS, NCT and Babycentre websites. The most important point to note is that you should never, ever leave your baby, not even for a few seconds, as they can drown in the shallowest puddle of water. Scary!

It seems the most sensible approach might be to look at what is suggested, then adapt it to a routine that suits you and your baby. There’s comprehensive information on Babycentre which I found pretty helpful. For those who learn visually, here is a video from the NHS on how to bathe a baby. For those who prefer their guides to be verbal, below is a step by step guide from the NCT which is roughly what we have been doing with Pip:

  1. Gather together towels, cotton wool, cooled boiled water, clean nappy and sleepsuit.
  2. Fill the bath, using cold water first (you can also bath the baby in a sink or baby bath using a similar process), until it has 8-10 cm or so in it and turn off the taps. Make sure the bath is body temperature – test it with your elbow* – it should feel neither hot nor cold but neutral or comfortably warm.
  3. Undress your baby except for her nappy. Wrap her in a towel on the changing mat next to the bath. Wash your baby’s face, as for topping and tailing, before she gets in.
  4. Take off your baby’s nappy last and clean her bottom.
  5. Lift your baby into the water with one arm behind her shoulders and neck, holding her outside arm with your hand. Place your other hand under her bottom. Once her bottom is resting on the floor of the bath, you can free that hand to wash her.
  6. When you are both ready, slip your free arm back under her bottom and hold her legs as she will now be slippery, then lift her out onto the towel.
  7. Dry, paying particular attention to skin folds.
  8. This could be a good opportunity for massaging your baby, if you like.

*I don’t trust my elbow so we use the same Avent thermometer that Elly has – it’s excellent and is so sensitive to the temperature. One less thing to worry about! We did have a cute whale one but the temperature gauge was rubbish so that’s been relegated to being decorative only.

Finally, I would also add an extra step at the end: feed your baby immediately while having a nice warm cuddle in the towel. This really helps to calm Pip down after the shock of being lifted out of the bath and being manhandled yet again as we attempt to dry him!

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