One of the scariest subjects for new parents is when and how to give their baby their first bath. Happily, sponge baths are fine until the umbilical stump has fallen off and their navel has healed. After that, you can add water to a baby bathtub or sink, then cross your fingers your little one doesn’t get scared, start wailing, or get too cold before you can get them clean.
Here’s another option: What if you could bathe your baby while also cuddling them skin-to-skin as you relax together in a warm, fragrant bath? Taking a bath with your baby (aka “co-bathing”) can be a pleasurable, refreshing, hormone-boosting experience for both of you. And with a little advance planning, sharing a bath with your baby can be both simple and safe.
Bathing with Benefits
When you think about it, holding your baby skin-to-skin in a warm bath is simply an extension of “kangaroo care,” with plenty of health benefits for both of you. Most newborns love this experience, probably because the warm water and closeness of your voice and heartbeat remind them of being back in the womb.
Co-bathing is a great way to get to know your little one, help them feel secure, and continue earning their trust. Some of the best reasons to bathe with your baby include:
- It’s relaxing. Soaking in a tub of warm water helps you wind down from your busy day. It can also calm your baby, help them stop crying, and get them ready for bedtime. Adding a little baby-friendly lavender bubble bath can also help you both feel calmer — and smell even sweeter.
- Better breastfeeding. The warm water and good skin-to-skin vibes boost your milk-making hormones and help with let-down. Many babies enjoy nursing while surrounded by warm water, although bath time may get cut short if your baby typically pees or poops right after a feeding.
- Saves time. After you’ve cuddled, washed, and maybe even breastfed your baby, you can hand them back to your partner, lean back, stretch your legs out, and enjoy some private time. Candles, music, and/or a cold drink are optional, of course.
Plan ahead. Stay safe.
The keys to safely sharing a bath with your baby are planning ahead and taking the right safety precautions. Here’s a quick look at how to do it, with or without another person there to help.
- Before you start. Bring everything you’ll both need into the bathroom, including body wash, shampoo, washcloths, towels, a diaper, and clean clothes for both of you. Turn up the thermostat if you need to warm up the room. If you forget something, skip it or take your baby with you if you leave the room.
- Put a nonslip mat into the tub. Even if you have both hands on your baby, if you start to slide around in the water you could lose your grip. Don’t take that chance. Use a nonslip mat or line the tub bottom with a towel to keep you from slipping around in the water.
- Run the water. Make sure the water is close to body temperature and just warm enough that both of you are comfortable. You can use your elbow to test it out. The water level should reach about halfway up your bent legs as you lean back.
- Step into the water — ALONE. Never try to climb into the bathtub with your baby in your arms! If you have a partner or helper nearby, sit in the tub and then have them hand the baby to you. If there’s no one available to help, put the baby in their car seat or bouncy seat next to the tub. Get in yourself, then reach over and bring the baby into the tub with you.
- Hold your baby with both hands. Try bending your knees and letting your little one lie against your thighs facing you. This makes it easier to make eye contact, caress or massage them, and pour or squeeze warm water over their body so they don’t get cold. You can cradle their head with one hand while you wash their body with the other.
- Breastfeed if you like. You’ll want to sit up enough to keep your breast above the water level. You can lay your baby tummy to tummy and use the laid-back position while feeding them, making sure your baby’s face is always above the water level.
- All done? When the water starts to cool, bath time is over. If you have someone there to help, hand the baby to them before you get out of the tub. If you’re on your own, place your baby back in the car seat or bouncy seat tucked into a clean towel, then get out, dry off, and carry on.
As you’ve seen, taking a bath with your baby takes a little preparation and a good understanding of how to keep both of you safe and comfortable. If you can, have someone with you the first couple of times you try co-bathing. When you feel more confidant, you can follow the steps outlined above for taking a bath with your baby when it’s just the 2 of you at home.
As always, if you have any questions about bathing your baby — in a tiny tub or with you in the big tub — your baby’s health care provider is the best source of information. Read more