Bathing a baby can be intimidating for even seasoned parents—they’re so squirmy, snuggly, and yes, slippery when wet! Your best bet? Be prepared before you start by gathering bath gear ahead of time, so you can focus on bathing baby safely.
Baby bath tub: This can be as basic as a baby bath bucket or as complicated as a tub system with built-in water thermometer. What’s right for you is what works for your taste, budget and space (baby tubs hog up a lot of room under the sink). Most infant tubs have a limited life—baby will only comfortably fit in them for the first six months or so, when she’ll graduate to bathing in the big girl tub.
Wash cloths: Small and convenient—and easy to lose in the laundry, so stock up from day one. Use washcloths (or a sponge) to soap up and wipe down baby. Cotton, bamboo or muslin options work best, and are easily washable.
Bath towel: Keep multiple towels handy in case of big splashes. And a hood is a must, especially for newborns. Wet babies lose heat fast, and mostly through their heads, so keep your little one bundled up and cozy post-bath.
Baby soap: Whether you trust old school faves like Johnson & Johnson’s, or aim for organic everything, make sure your baby's soap is specially formulated for infant care. And don’t suds up too often—you’ll strip baby’s skin of natural and necessary oils.
Keep in mind, too, that for newborns, a daily dunk in the tub isn’t necessary. Instead, a sponge bath in any warm, water-friendly place (such as a waterproof changing pad) is ideal. A brand-new baby’s skin is too sensitive for frequent sudsing up, and aside from the diaper area, which gets frequent attention anyway, she’s not going to be particularly dirty. Once the umbilical stump falls off, though, baby will be ready for the real thing—and might even enjoy the water.
Bathing your newborn can seem scary in the beginning, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get the hang of it, with the right bath-time gear and a bit of practice. So, what do you need to stock up on to make baby’s bath as fun and stress-free as possible? Here are some questions to consider that may help.
How important is convenience?When it comes to baby bath tubs, the simplest ones are often the easiest to use. Look for a sturdy tub that has the following basic features:
How important are extra features?If you tend to like products with more bells and whistles, these days you can find tubs with helpful extras like water jets, temperature indicators, and mini shower head nozzles. Just know these spa-like amenities — which can be pretty amazing — aren’t necessary for making bath time safe and fun.
Is it easy to clean?Look for tubs that are easy to drain, and that dry quickly when bath time is over. The quickest-drying options tend to be plastic, but many baby bath tub seats are made of mildew-resistant foam or fabric.
Is space a factor?Let’s face it: Baby stuff adds up fast. If space is tight, forgo the huge plastic baby tub and consider a soft foldable or collapsible tub with a hook or hanger for easy storage. A smaller tub that fits into the kitchen sink could be another good option. Avoid inflatable baby bath tubs—while they’re the ultimate space-savers, they can tip over, putting your baby at risk of drowning.
How long will you be using it?Convertible tubs are designed to grow with your child—all the way from the newborn stage to the toddler years (usually about 25 pounds). Many have mesh slings or mildew-resistant foam pads to support newborns, which can be removed as your baby outgrows them. Some options—like the much-lauded PUJ tub—cater just to infants small enough to bathe in a sink, which means upgrading as baby gets bigger. In general, though, you can expect that your baby will outgrow most infant tubs by 6 months. When she’s capable of sitting unassisted, she can bathe in a regular big tub lined with a rubber nonskid mat or skidproof stick-ons to prevent slipping.
Most important of all: Is it safe?While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (or CPSC) has issued manufacturer guidelines for many baby bath products, including baby tubs and bath seats, baby bath product recalls are not uncommon. So when it comes to baby bath gear, it’s important to be a smart consumer.
For example, it’s important to note that most experts recommend against using a bath seat for safety’s sake. (They give parents a false sense security about leaving baby in the tub.) If you do decide to use a bath seat, be sure you use one that meets current safety standards issued by the CPSC. These standards include strict stability requirements to prevent the bath seat from tipping over, tight leg openings to prevent children slipping through, and a larger permanent warning label alerting parents and caregivers that bath seats are not safety devices and that infants should never be left unattended in a bath seat.
When babies and water come together, you’ve got a recipe for fun — but also a potential recipe for disaster. Safety, of course, is your first and foremost priority when bathing your infant. Here’s what to keep in mind when stocking up for baby’s bath time:
Baby tub basics When buying a baby bath tub, look for BPA-free materials with no sharp edges, and suction cups on the base for extra sturdiness.
Make your tub a slip-free zoneUse a non-skid mat or pads to ensure your infant tub does not slip or move when wet, and to keep baby safe when she’s old enough to wash in the “big girl tub.”
Watch the waterspoutFunny how a harmless bathtub faucet can start to look like a deadly weapon when baby’s in the tub, right? Use a soft spout cover to prevent injury.
Monitor the water temperatureWater should be warm, but not hot, between 90 and 100 degrees. Keep a bath thermometer handy – even the rubber ducky kind — to make sure you’re not scalding sensitive skin.
Use soap in moderationJust a drop or two is plenty — too much soap can make surfaces extra slippery, and over-washing can dry out natural and essential oils in skin.
Keep baby warmMake sure your bathroom or bathing space is warm. Aim for 75 degrees to 80 degrees. Babies get cold quickly, especially when wet. Prevent the shivers by having a towel ready and waiting when it’s time to get out.
Buyer bewareThe Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a bath safety checklist for consumers, as well as manufacturer guidelines for many baby bath products, including baby tubs and bath seats, but not all baby bath products meet CPSC standards. The upshot? If you’re not sure whether a product marketed for baby’s bath is safe, skip it.
Which baby bath products do you really need to get baby squeaky clean without any tears or slip-ups? Get the bath time scoop from moms who have been there and splashed that.
“A little baby bath is handy when they are tiny but it's easier to just use a regular bath if you have one...Don't get anything too huge, because although a bigger one will last longer, they are ridiculously heavy once full. Even just sliding across a kitchen counter to a sink is hard work!” - lollyaps2
“Lay a towel (or two) in the tub and put a little water. Lay baby on it and wash away. That's how I bathed my babies. We tried various tubs/sponges and none worked as well as a towel. Always available and doesn't have to be packed.” -lesab
“I used the infant sling type bath tub until my boys were too big for it. Once they could sit up on their own, I took the sling out and had them sit in the toddler tub part.” - ohmichgirl
“I put my baby in the tub with a mat as she can also sit up on her own and play. She likes it and it saved us money. I didn't see the need for a small tub inside a big tub lol.” - stephv16
"Baby washcloths are worth it because they're small and thin so they're easy to wash between tiny fat rolls and toes. :-) Baby towels are a waste in my opinion. I used one for like a week until I realized a regular towel works just fine.” -septembermom14
"My daughter has been in the big tub pretty much since she could sit up well. We just put a mat down underneath her so she won't slip, and also put a little inflatable cover over the faucet just in case she hits her head on it. She definitely tries to move around a lot in the tub, but obviously we're right there to stop her if need be.” -jaymekins
“We got a nonslip bath mat and it helps a lot with slipping. Get one with holes in it though, because we got a kiddie one with none and it got moldy underneath.” -kvtheo12
“Both of my children and myself have eczema, so the only soap that doesn't cause the itchy patches is Dove. This was also recommended by their pediatricians. I use Johnson’s baby shampoo on my daughter’s scalp because of dandruff that comes and goes and oddly enough, that's what was recommended for her scalp only.” -BrianAvaAubrianna
“We bathe together most of the time and both love it! She kicks and splashes. She is always so smiley and happy during and we even started adding bath toys which she loves. If you are nursing you can do that too, very relaxing. I use the bouncy chair to set her in while I get in and out and keep her wrapped in a towel.” -kring1121
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.
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