The ultimate age and stage bath guide
Now you're a parent, the bath will be one of your best friends. Not just for you to plunge into for an occasional moment's peace, but because it will be a major part of your bub's routine for at least the next few years. Baths are not just about washing baby. They're relaxing, they're fun and bath time is a great time for parents to spend with their little ones.
In the first few weeks, it will be when you spend gentle and beautiful time with your new little bub, seeing first smiles and getting to know each other. As bub gets older, baths will become a great way to wind down after a big day of learning. Once the toddler years are reached, baths are lots of fun as your tot engages in water play.
Here's everything you need to know about bathing newborns to three year olds.
Up to three months: They're so tiny!
Bathing your newborn baby is meant to be the parenting equivalent to candlelight and
‘My baby hates the bath'
Many do at the start, so if your baby seems distressed, “top and tail” (i.e. wash face, bottom and hands) every other day, rather than having a full bath. During undressing and bathing, sing to your bub, smiling all the time. And take heart - eventually your bub will love the bath.
‘I can't remember how the midwife did it'
Of course you can't - you'd just given birth. It may have looked like a complicated dance routine in the hospital but it's quite simple, and open to your own interpretation. Here are the basics:
- Wash bub's face while she's still dressed, cleaning the eyes with cotton wool (inner eye to outer eye).
- Undress her, leaving the nappy till last.
- Supporting her head and neck, lower her into the bath, feet first and lay her back, keeping her cradled in one arm.
- Gently wash her, then take her out carefully - babies can be slippery - and wrap her in a towel
‘I'm scared I'll scald her'
If you don't trust your elbow's ability to test the temperature, buy a thermometer; the recommended temperature is 36°C.
‘His skin is peeling'
Many newborns, particularly those born past their due date, can have scaly, flaky skin. Keep his baths short - less than 10 minutes - don't use any soap products and rub in a sorbolene cream after the bath.
Three to six months: The best part of the day
Now you're both feeling comfortable with bath time, it may well become your favourite time of the day. Here are four ways to make the most of that special time.
1. What's the best time?
Now you have a better understanding of your bub's routines choose a time in which both of you are relaxed and unstressed, and won't be rushed. For some that's at night, for others it's in the morning when it's just the two of you at home.
2. Get comfortable
Make sure the room is a nice temperature and the baby bath, if you're using one, is at a comfortable level for you so you can keep supporting your little one during a long luxurious bath without straining your back. If you're using a big bath, put a cushion down for your knees.
Drag out all those nursery rhymes and start singing. Or if it's a night just before bed, a more gentle lullaby might be better.
4. Bathing with baby
Run a big bath and have a bath together. Babies love being in the water with their parents, and this is another opportunity to bond.
Make sure there is another adult around to help you both get in and out.
Six to nine months: Keeping bath time safe
Drowning and scalding are the major risks for babies in the bath. But both are highly preventable if parents and carers remain vigilant. Here's a sobering fact: more infants and toddlers die from drowning than car accidents. Here are nine safety tips you can't ignore:
- Never leave your child unattended in the bath - this is the golden rule which must never be broken.
- Take the phone off the hook, turn off the mobile - you want no distractions at all while you're bathing your baby.
- Drowning is silent - babies can just slip under water and not even splash, so don't turn your back for a minute.
- Don't trust ‘safety' devices - bath seats and the like will not keep your baby from drowning, only you can do that.
- Check the temperature first - with your elbow, wrist or a thermometer. It should be no more than 38°C once they're six months old.
- Turn taps off tightly - so they're not dripping scalding water or can be turned on by little hands.
- Keep the depth to about 8cm - or belly button height.
- Turn down the temperature - you can have your top hot water temperature reduced to about 55°C to lessen the chance of scalding.
- Pull the plug - as soon as you're finished with the bath.
Nine to 12 months: It's play time!
When your baby is playing in the bath, he's getting smarter and smarter. Bath time is another important time for babies to develop and learn about such life concepts as “cause and effect”. At this age, your bub will be sitting up (with some support), splashing around and loving his bath toys. Try these great bath time activities.
Let's get wet
Encourage your youngster to splash around with their hands and feet, giving them a full body work-out that can improve coordination and balance.
At this age they'll love a bubble bath. Make them laugh by putting some bubbles on your head or face, and get them to pop the big bubbles.
A few simple toys which float, hold water or stick to the bath wall will not only be fun, but teach some basic physics and develop fine motor skills.
If your bub loves his bath, this can be a great time to enjoy some reading. There are a whole lot of waterproof bath books on the market.
Where's your belly button?
Run a bubble bath and show your baby that when you move the bubbles out the way you can see his belly button. Put the bubbles back, and his belly button is gone. This teaches him that, even though he can't see something, it still exists.
12 to 18 months: Your bath time essentials
It's like a whole industry has been created out of bathing little people. It can be overwhelming. What do you need? What's safe? What's essential? Here is your ultimate bath time shopping list for your one-year-old.
Toddler skin care
Out of the huge amount of products available, this is what you'll need:
- soap-free bath wash suitable for toddler skin
- a no-more-tears baby specific shampoo
- moisturiser for times when skin is dry
- nappy rash cream
- a towel to dry bub
- a hooded one to wrap him in
- wash cloths (to wipe face or cover eyes when washing hair)
- gentle bubble bath, which has the added bonus of cleaning
- floating toys, cups and funnels
- toys which stick to tiles or side of the tub
- a bath book or two
Remember, only your constant vigilance can keep your baby safe
- Two non-slip bath mats: one for the tub and one for the floor to stop slipping
- Bath seats and cradles are NOT safety aids
18 months to two years: Bath time is calm time
At this age, toddlers can easily become over-stimulated, fractious and very, very grubby, particularly by the end of the day. So the bath can be a wonderful place to unwind and start calming down - and parents can start cleaning off the grime and gunk from a day of exploration. These five tips can make bath time calm time.
- Allow some independence and encourage them to start washing themselves.
- Enforce a “no standing” rule.
- Rotate the bath toys so they always feel like they're playing with something new. This doesn't mean you have to buy lots of toys - just raid your kitchen cupboards.
- Let them go mad at the beginning of the bath, kicking and splashing a bit, but gently wind them back to more calm play.
- Make bath time “us” time. Don't treat it as a chore but make it a special time where your littlie gets your full attention - let's face it, for safety reasons you ARE giving your tot undivided attention anyway. This will make them love their baths even more.
Two to three years: When bath time battles rage
You can't get them into the bath, and then you can't get them out. Hair washing day is a nightmare. Maybe she's suddenly become scared of the bath, or worked out that bath time is quickly followed by that other dreaded thing, bedtime. Here are some ways to deal with these issues.
If the battles become too much for everyone, halve them. Many experts now say that even at the toddler age, a bath every other day is fine. If she's not too stinky, maybe a face, hand and bottom wash will be enough. But point out that having baths is a non-negotiable, unavoidable part of her life, and it will keep happening.
If she's become afraid of the bath (maybe it stung a sore last time, or she got soap in her eyes or the water going down the drain frightened her), try to ease her fears but don't force her to stay in the bath. You could give her a sponge bath on a bath mat for a couple days and some experts suggest putting your child in the bath without water. Try talking to her beforehand about the fun games you're going to play with when she's in the bath.
If this is the reason for her hating the bath, just move it to earlier in the day, if possible, or even make mornings bath time.
This is a common one because water gets on their face and shampoo can get in their eyes. Their hair only needs to be washed once a week. Try getting them to wear goggles at hair wash time. Give them a face washer for their eyes and encourage them to tip their heads back. Or put a non-breakable mirror in front of them and make funny hairstyles using the shampoo.
More baby's first week at home articles:
- Ultimate guide to the first week at home with your newborn
- Caring for your baby's ears
- Giving your baby the first bath
- How to reduce your rubbish once baby arrives
- Create a stylish baby nursery
- Safe baby nursery furniture
- How to leave the house with a newborn
- What to pack when you leave the house with a newborn
More baby firsts:
- Baby development firsts and milestones
- First week at home with your newborn
- Establish a routine with your baby
- Baby nutrition guide
- Fun activities to play with your baby