Some babies take to the water 'like a duck' so bath-time can be a time for relaxation and fun. For others the early days of bathing might be a little stressful, although I have been told by respected midwives that if a bath is warm and deep enough, babies don't cry - they love it! However, I can speak from the 'stressful' experience. When my eldest son was a newborn it took him a few weeks to feel really relaxed in the bath ... or maybe that was because he was feeling my nervousness. I was terrified I would drop him! Thankfully, it developed into a time to enjoy, as it is such a great delight for babies to get a thrill from making a splash in the water and discovering the fun of playing in the bath. Then, as the years go by and they are teenagers (I also speak from experience with this) they will probably need to be constantly told, 'time is up ... out of the shower!'.
Developing a bath-time routine must firstly be about safe practices (see Babies' Safety → During Caregiving Routines), which includes your undivided attention on Baby ... and being aware of just how slippery a baby can be when wet. There are many written practical guides about bath-time procedures, such as how to wrap a baby for washing the face and head and how to place her into the bath. Some midwives suggest putting the baby straight into the bath (always making sure that Baby's bottom has been properly cleaned before you place her into the bath) and washing her face and head in the clean bathwater. Whatever method you decide will depend on what you and Baby are comfortable with ... you could ask for further information at your maternal and infant health clinic.
Importantly be organised before the routine begins; think through the procedure with everything you need before you begin bath-time, including having the warm water ready in the tub and Baby's clothes ready for when you are finished. Having a safe portable padded change mat (one that is designed for bench tops or can be safely used on a floor) in the bathing area can be handy. You can undress Baby and pop her straight in the bath - and having the towel over the change mat means it is ready for when Baby is ready to be lifted out and dried. Nice and easy!
Let's go with developing an 'early days' bath-time routine of predictable interactions:
- Let's assume you are calm and organised with everything ready for Baby's bath, and you are chatting 'Oh, you are going to have a lovely bath ... it will be warm and soothing' as you start undressing her. Now Baby's ready for a dip in the water.
- Keep up the chat as you lift her by supporting behind her head, neck and shoulders with your forearm and hand, and use your other hand to cup under her little knees. Gently place her in the water. Your forearm continues to support her upper body from start to finish.
- 'Oh ... how is that ... the water is so lovely and warm ...' Gradually as Baby gets used to the bath (and depending on the depth of water) she might enjoy the floating feeling - allowing her legs to move freely ... oh ... look at you ... you are floating ... well done! If she is feeling at ease (and if there is enough space in the tub) you can gently 'glide' her through the water - so as to move her forward and backward in the water. This motion of movement can be very soothing.
- Get on with the body washing using your free hand. Keep chatting/singing and having eye contact ... and depending on Baby's mood (and your back and arm which may be going numb from supporting baby!), continue bath-time while the water stays warm. You will also need to anticipate that Baby may be getting tired 'Oh ... I think it might be time for getting dried off ... what do you think?'.
- When you are ready to lift her out, do so the same way you lifted her into the water ... with your forearm supporting her head/neck/shoulder and the other hand cupped under her knees. Place her in a towel so she feels snug. This is where having a portable change mat next to you in the bath area with the towel left on it from unwrapping her may be handy.
- As you gently pat Baby dry talk with her ... Let's dry off ... and be sure every little body part, in between creases, fingers and toes, and behind the ears are dried.
- Get on with the dressing, starting with the nappy!
Other suggestions for bathing Baby include:
- Some babies adore floating on their tummies. To put Baby into the water 'tummy-side-down', the water needs to be at a depth that will allow him to float. You will need to support his little head with his cheek resting on the inside of your forearm/wrist area and with your hand coming under his chest (similar as to how you might carry him with his tummy side down). Use the other hand to support under the legs and then gently place him into the water. You can turn Baby over onto his back when you are ready to wash him.
- You and Baby bathing or showering together. Depending on your situation, you may need a non-slip mat in the bath or shower base if it is slippery.
How bath-time turns into play
As babies develop, so does the amount of activity that they enjoy in the bath. The great thing is it doesn't take much for Baby to be entertained in the bath:
- Splashing is such great fun! While babies usually discover this action themselves they are also great imitators of parents' interactions (discussed in Development and Learning → Be Baby's Most Effective Teacher). As you notice Baby starting to use his hands to splash, which might initially frighten him, you will encourage his fun by reciprocating - taking turns together - with you using your hands to gently tap the water. Doing this is sharing fun time but you are also encouraging Baby by supporting his want to explore and learn from the environment you are creating. This builds on his self confidence. You will be praising Baby for his effort ... Oh ... look at that ... what a big splash ... well done!
- Early learning of basic math and science concepts such as floating/sinking, full/empty can also takes place in the bath as Baby develops. Floaty toys like plastic ducks, fish (and anything else that has the potential to create fun!) are a great source of discovery as they watch what happens when they push down on a toy to see it bob back up. This is the beginning stage of exploring the floating and sinking concept through 'cause and effect'. You will be part of Baby's learning by showing/demonstrating to him and in turn he will develop skills from imitating your actions.
- Plastic books for the bath are also fantastic.
- Blowing bubbles using your hands and the bath foam.
- Sponges/bath blocks for squeezing can be easily picked up when Baby is learning to grasp objects.
- Sing bath-time songs e.g. Splasherty Splash from the Bond With Baby Songs.
As Baby further develops in the last part of his first year, kitchen items such funnels, strainers, spoons and containers can be fun for them to explore. The list of bath-time activities is unlimited. Importantly, babies continue to learn and develop from the environment that is created for them by their loving parents (discussed in Development and Learning).