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Everything You Need to Know About Baby Tubs and Bathtime

When it’s time for a baby’s bath, some new parents understandably get a bit nervous about holding a slippery, squirming baby. Fret not, you’ll get the hang of it in no time, and before you know it you’ll enjoy the bonding session as much as they do.

(By the way, the trick to holding a wriggling baby safely during their bath is to cradle them in your arm while maintaining a secure but gentle grip on their head and neck.)

And any apprehension will likely vanish once you’ve tried it a few times. Baths only need to last about five minutes and babies only require them every few days. Any more frequently and their skin can become dry. See? No problem!

In the first several days of a baby’s life, until the umbilical stump falls off and heals, it’s best to give babies a sponge bath. For this, just set up shop on a towel, either on the floor or, carefully, on a changing table. As with any baby bath time, make sure the room is warm, and the water feels warm — not hot — to the inside of your wrist. If you can set the water temperature at your home, set it for 120 degrees. Just 20 degrees hotter can burn your baby’s skin, so take care to find the right temperature.

Using a mild baby soap and baby shampoo, wipe the baby down, making sure to clean their eyes, which can get crusty. As you bathe them, try to keep the baby mostly covered by the towel so they stay warm, only uncovering whatever part you’re washing. Always make sure to hold the baby securely with one arm to keep them safe.

When the baby is old enough, you can switch to a normal bath, either in a baby tub or the kitchen sink, whatever feels most comfortable for you and the baby; you only need a few inches of water in the tub. With a cup, pour water over your baby frequently so they don’t get cold, and wipe them down with a soapy washcloth. If using a tub or sink, some parents like to place a soft covering over the spout — accidents happen, so having a spout cover is a good precaution. Plus, they can be really cute, like this whale-shaped one.

Before the bath, set out a towel (you may prefer to use a hooded baby towel), diaper, and change of clothes. That way, it will all be ready when the bath is over. First dry and wrap your baby up to make sure they’re warm and cozy. If your baby needs it, this is a good time to lotion up their skin. Now that they’re clean and warm, your baby should be ready for a good nap, a night of sleep or a big day of playing and learning.

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Chase Scheinbaum
Chase Scheinbaum

Chase Scheinbaum is a journalist and uncle four times over who's written for Businessweek, Village Voice, AJ+, Men's Journal, Fatherly and other publications.