Bath time is a key ingredient in many a parent's bedtime routine, but I'll be honest — bathing a baby is trickier than it seems. For newborns, there's the sheer panic of placing them in a very real (albeit small) body of water. With older babies, there's a thrash-and-squirm factor that makes bath time messy, to say the least. And toddlers, well — they're toddlers. Sometimes they don't want to take a bath. Other times, they don't want to get out. What gives, and what kind of baby-bathing hacks can make the whole process easier?
From making sure the water is the right temperature to choosing non-irritating soaps and lotions, attacking baby-bathing with a strong strategy in place will help you out immensely. Gathering supplies in advance is one easy hack — it's just easier, not to mention safer, to have the soap, bubbles, lotion, and towel laid out and ready to go. But wait, there's more.
Newborn Care Specialist Ruby Sibal of Beyond Baby Care believes bath time should be quality bonding time, for baby and the parents, and walks you step-by-step through newborn facials and shampoos. Romper collected these eight baby-bathing hacks, including a few tips for toddlers, because bath time should be as smooth and easy as that yellow rubber ducky. Wait, where's that rubber ducky? You know you can't have bath time without him!
When it comes to baby bathing, your first step is to gather your products. Newborn Care Specialist Ruby Sibal loves Mustela Foam Shampoo ($13, Target), Mustela Gentle Cleansing Gel ($17, Target), and Mustela Bath Oil ($11, Target) for their gentleness, and prefers a pump to other dispensing methods for ease of use. She also recommends the Baby Buddy Bath Sponges and Loofahs ($10, Target) to collect water, and for newborns, the Skip Hop Moby Warm-up Bath Cozy ($8, Target) to keep baby from getting chilly in a sling tub.
You'll also want water in Tupperware containers to wet and rinse the sponges, a fluffy warm towel for wrapping baby, your sling tub, cotton balls for her face, a thick terry washcloth for washing her hair, and a cradle cap brush or hair brush. (Extra washcloths don't hurt either.) Don't forget a toy for baby to hold onto.
Until the umbilical cord falls off, babies can't have a full bath. However, you can wash their hair and face and perform a soothing sponge bath. Sibal describes her steps for baby's facial and shampoo, which can also be performed before bath time, to keep an older baby from getting too cold in the tub.
"First I undress baby, leaving only the diaper," Sibal tells Romper. "Then wrap the baby in a bath towel, snug, like a swaddle." This makes her easy to keep in football hold. Next, Sibal wets a cotton ball — squeezing out excess water so it's just damp — and wipes baby's face from forehead to neck, including the backs of the ears. Use a separate cotton ball for each eye to prevent any infection from spreading, and wipe from the inner to the outer corner.
Next, a spa-quality shampoo:
"Wet hair by dipping a sponge in room temperature water — cooler than water for a bath or tub," she explains. "Then pump newborn shampoo into your hands and lather with circular massaging motions on baby's head and scalp." For cradle cap, take your brush and smooth the hair in one direction. Rinse the hair with the same sponge (squeeze out any bubbles before dipping it into water), then dry baby's hair with the terry washcloth.
Like Goldilocks, your baby wants water that's not too hot or too cold. Around five minutes before giving baby a full bath, Sibal fills the tub with warm water — between 96 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit — making it a bit hotter if she knows baby won't make it into the bath for a bit.
To check that the water's just right, she dips her elbow into the tub. Sibal also recommends stirring the water up a bit, so it's a consistent temperature throughout.
"Before I put baby into the water, I tell her what I'm doing," says Sibal, "and dip her feet in two-to-three times so they can feel the water first."
For newborns, place your arm beneath their chest and let them sit on the tub seat a moment. Wetting their back first will give them another chance to get used to the water, and make bath time in the early weeks an easier experience for everyone.
Parents are understandably exhausted at the end of the day, but you can start looking forward to bath time by making it quality time. Sibal gives babies an infant massage with organic sunflower oil before bathing them, and a short "bonus" massage with hydrating oil after. You can sing to your baby during bath time, narrate her wash, or tell her all about your day.
A bath routine also signals to your baby that it's getting close to bedtime.
When baby outgrows her sling bath, the tub still looks like a vast ocean. Lifehacker suggested bathing baby in a laundry basket to keep her (and her toys) contained in the tub.
I used this hack last night, and it totally works. Just be careful if your baby is trying to pull herself up — you don't want her to slip and fall. Use a non-slip mat and don't take your hands off her.
Toddler safety tip: drain the bath immediately after you're finished — making this a habit reduces the likelihood that you'll accidentally leave any standing water around for your little one to find later, according to Kidspot.
If your toddler's not feeling bath time (it happens), or is acting dangerously squirmy, it's OK to fall back on the sponge bath technique. Key areas to hit include pretty much every fold — red rashes in skin folds develop quickly when baby isn't bathed enough — and the area under the chin, where food and milk collect (gross, I know, but this is why you're sponging them to begin with).
Your toddler might even settle down during sponge time, and let her give you a real bath. No guarantees, though.
Wondering how to wash those bath toys super well (babies put them in their mouths after all)? Try loading the dishwasher with plastic toys and using a cup and a half of vinegar in place of detergent — it's cheaper and non-toxic. Read the full instructions at Eat Craft Parent.
Also, what's with the holes in the bottoms of bath toys? If your baby, like mine, is constantly drinking her bath water, consider Baby Gaga's advice: glue the hole in rubber ducky's bottom to keep it from becoming a super unhygienic water bottle.
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