Your baby’s first bath might make you a little nervous, but bathtime is a great bonding time for both parents. Doula Donna Bland gives you some pointers.
Bathing a baby for the first time, and even the first few times can be quite daunting for new parents. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that can make bath time for you and your little one easier and more enjoyable.
Recent studies have shown that delaying a baby’s first bath is significantly beneficial. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies should not be bathed for at least 24 hours after delivery. These days, waiting anything between 48 hours and seven days is considered acceptable. A good rule of thumb is to wait until you are back home to bath your baby.
Here are some reasons why delaying the first bath is recommended:
- Enhanced maternal-infant bonding – A baby spends nine months in its mother’s womb, and mom waits the same amount of time to meet her precious newborn. Besides any medical intervention that may be necessary, nothing else should disturb this bond. Spending time skin-to-skin has been proven to improve bonding between mother and baby, improve the chances of successful breastfeeding and has many other long-term benefits for babies.
- Improved temperature regulation – For the first 48 hours of life, it is difficult for a baby to regulate its own temperature. It takes a lot of energy for a newborn to remain warm and bathing can decrease the baby’s internal temperature. If a baby’s temperature drops, it can cause lowered blood sugar levels and other complications.
- Regulated blood sugar levels – Babies need to adjust to life outside the womb and the loss of the placenta as a source of blood sugar. Bathing them shortly after birth can cause them to cry and become stressed, which in turn may lower blood sugar levels. This may result in a baby being too tired to breastfeed and therefore lower its blood sugar levels.
- Reduced risk of infection – Babies are covered in a white, waxy substance at birth, called vernix. This contains your baby’s skin cells from early development and proteins that help prevent common bacterial infections. This wonderful, natural component also prevents heat loss in your baby, and is better than any body cream you could ever buy.
Once you are ready to give your baby her first bath, here’s how to get organised:
- Ensure that the bathroom or room where the bath will take place is warm and doesn’t have a draught.
- Make sure that you have all the items necessary, ready and at hand, including:
- A towel
- A facecloth
- A nappy
- Clean clothes
- Cotton wool
- Shampoo and baby wash (try using a soap-free product to prevent dry skin). I recommend using a pump action bottle to make things easier
- Baby lotion/oil
- A blanket if it’s cold
- If you are using a baby bath in baby’s room or yours, position it at a suitable height, making sure it’s stable. Ensure that your changing area is close by.
- Use a bucket to pour water into the bath. The water should be just above body temperature (about 37-38°C). You can use a thermometer or the inside of your forearm. The water should be warm but not hot.
- If you are bathing your baby in the bathroom basin, make sure that you run the cold water last so that the tap is cold and won’t scold your baby if touched.
- Never leave your baby unattended in the bath or on the changing area.
Once you have everything ready, make sure your baby is awake and calm, and not due for a feed.
Step 1: Undress your baby, leaving the nappy on to begin with and wrap her in the towel.
Step 2: Wet three pieces of cotton wool and use two to clean each eye, working from the inside out, remembering to use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye. This will prevent cross-infection if your baby has conjunctivitis or any other eye infection. Use the remaining piece of cotton wool to wipe the rest of your baby’s face. Gently pat her face with the towel or a dry face cloth.
Step 3: Holding baby in one arm, with her head facing your hand, wet your baby’s hair over the bath water. Gently rub in some baby shampoo and then rinse, being careful not to get any water in her eyes. Dry with the hood of the towel or a dry face cloth.
Step 4: Now it’s time to undress baby completely and gently submerge her in the bath water. Holding your baby behind the right knee (if you are right-handed) and allowing the rest of the upper half of baby’s body to lean on your forearm is an easy and comfortable way to hold your baby’s body in the water. You may also choose to cup baby’s head in your hand and allow her to float, being careful not to wet her ears. Your other hand is then free to wash baby’s body – I don’t think that sponges or face cloths are necessary when they are so little.
Step 5: Once you are ready to take your baby out of the bath, move quickly to get her wrapped up and warm in the towel. Babies generally enjoy bathing, after all, they’ve spent nine months in water. What they don’t enjoy is being cold. Lift your baby up in the towel, and give her a cuddle, reassuring her that you are there. Once your baby seems calm, continue drying her body, making sure that you dry all the little crevices: behind the knees, under the chin and in the elbow area.
Step 6: Moisturise your baby’s body with a baby lotion or oil and dress her, remembering to use a blanket if the weather is cool.
If you are nervous at first, why not let your partner bath with baby in the bath tub? This will give them the opportunity to enjoy some bonding time and give you a break too. Alternatively, you can use a baby bath pod/seat or bath tub cushion – there are a variety of different makes available. Choose one that you feel most comfortable with.
Keep in mind that bath time will become more enjoyable as your confidence increases and your baby becomes used to the routine of bathing. Once your baby is older you will need to change over to the bath tub in your bathroom. Place a non-slip mat onto the base of the bath to prevent slipping. Your baby will want to spend more time in the bath playing, so get some waterproof toys for them to enjoy.
Most importantly, never leave your baby unattended!