Not all babies love bathing at the start. But there are a few simple things you can do to make bathtime a happy time for you and your baby.
In the beginning, most babies do not like being undressed and will often start crying as soon as you take their clothes off. This can make bathing an anxious and difficult experience (for you both). You may also feel nervous about handling your slippery little newborn. You're not alone! Most new parents will feel nervous, to some degree, about bathing their baby in the early days or weeks.
Be patient with yourself and your baby. Their behaviour will usually improve once they become accustomed to being undressed and feeling the extra 'space' around them. Remember, your baby has been cocooned in a relatively small area for a considerable period of time! As you get more practice, you too will gain confidence. Before you know it both of you will settle down to this new ritual and hopefully enjoy bath time!
The best bathtime
If doing a 'formal' baby bath each day, it may take a while to work out when you and your baby prefer to have bath time. This may relate to the time of the day (which may vary depending on your baby's eating and sleeping cycles) or whether it is before or after a feed.
Timing the bath with the feed usually is associated with your baby's personality and their age. In the early days most newborns are pre-occupied with feeding and may not appreciate being placed in a bath when they are hungry. If your baby is unhappy, then neither of you will enjoy the bathing experience. (There are, though, a few babies who are so laid back that they don't mind when you bath them!)
Some mothers will feed their baby first and then bathe. Others will start the feed, then bathe their baby, before finishing the remainder of the feed to leave their baby clean, sleepy and (hopefully) content. As your baby gets older, and has more alert, wakeful periods of time, the feeding may not be such an issue as bathing can become an activity to occupy your inquisitive baby.
Timing of the bath can also depend on how you are feeling. If you are too tired, irritable, rushed or upset, leave the bath time until you feel more inclined. The bath does not need to be done at the same time everyday (or everyday for that matter!) Feeling tired and rushed is not a good combination when trying to bath. If your baby is not hungry, but unsettled and irritable, then the bath may be used as part of relaxing and settling your baby to sleep (whether they are dirty or not!)
If you find bathing in the early days or weeks too stressful it may be best to keep bathing to a minimum at first. Once or twice a week is fine, until you both become accustomed to bathing. In place of a formal bath you can 'top and tail' your baby (just cleaning their face and bottom) every other day.
If your baby does a very big, messy poo, which has soiled absolutely everything, bathing may be the best way of cleaning them. Before plunging your baby into the bath try and wipe most of the poo off first. (Although, some mothers will turn the tap on in their bathroom basin, adjusting the temperature so it is warm, and place their baby underneath for a mini shower!)
A deep bath may help to relax a baby who cries a lot. Bathing more frequently may also help babies that are particularly unsettled. If your baby is crying when you first put them into the bath, talk or sing to them. Some babies will cry initially but calm down once they are submerged in the warm water.
This article was written for Birth, Australia's most comprehensive pregnancy and baby website.
Last revised: Tuesday, 10 September 2013
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.