It’s bath time and I am wiping down the bathroom sink — multitasking, right? — with an eye on my toddler in the mirror’s reflection. I notice her back into the corner of the tub, a worried expression on her face. "All done, Mama," she says, and I don’t even have to look to know what’s up. But I reluctantly peek into the tub anyway and, yep — there’s poop floating in the water. It’s the second time this week and I can’t help but wonder — what causes a baby to poop in the tub?
"Infants and toddlers having bowel movements in the tub is fairly common," says Texas-based Dr. Eboni Hollier, who is board-certified in both general and developmental and behavioral pediatrics, in a Romper email interview. "The warm water of the bath causes the baby's muscles to relax, and hence, makes it easier to have a bowel movement in the tub than in the diaper."
Ugh, so it’s not just an act meant to torture parents? Hollier reassures me that it’s not and, instead, young children just don’t have the muscle control to prevent it from occurring. "In fact, as a pediatrician, I often recommend that parents place their young children in a warm bath if they have challenges with constipation [or other bowel-related difficulties]," she says.
In order to prevent the gag-worthy bath time cleanup, Hollier says it’s important for parents to keep in mind that babies and young children often have bowel movements shortly after eating a meal. Try to give your child a bath before she eats or wait at least an hour after a meal.
But if fate is not on your side and a poop-in-the-tub incident happens anyway, Hollier says limiting your reaction is key to diffusing the situation.
"It is important to stay calm and keep your poker face during these times," she says. "Becoming overly emotional can make dealing with this situation more difficult for both you and your child."
That means you should assure your child by using a pleasant voice — I usually repeat "It’s OK" in a high-pitched voice while crying on the inside — removing her from the tub, and placing her in a safe place while you get down to business, according to Fit Pregnancy.
Cleanup should include scooping the poop from the tub, draining the water, and squeezing all excess water from toys, Hollier says. Allow the toys to completely dry while cleaning the tub with your choice of cleaning solution, then rinse the tub. Once toys are dry, place them in hot water and vinegar for 10 to 20 minutes, using one part vinegar and three parts hot water. Rinse and allow them to dry out again.
Once everything is cleaned up, it’s important to run a fresh bath and bathe your baby again. If you are worried about your baby getting sick, then don’t be. Hollier says it’s "very unlikely to cause an infection," even if the child consumes some of the dirty water.
As for that nauseated feeling when you’re done cleaning up? Well, I’ve got to tell you — that’s going to take some time.