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Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center Inc.

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Angela Oswalt, MSW

In order to stay clean and healthy, babies need to be bathed regularly. There are different ways to wash babies, according to their age, motor abilities, and preferences. Some caregivers may want to bathe their babies daily; however, to prevent dry skin, most babies receive a bath every other day or when they have an especially messy diaper. As well, they may not need to have their hair washed more than once a week, especially if they have dry, flaky skin patches on their head, a condition known as cradle cap. Bath time can be a fun and special time between infant and caregiver that can add to their physical, mental, and emotional growth. No matter how old the baby is, parents can sing and talk to their infants to increase bonding and trust. As babies grow older, they can begin to explore and learn about their body parts during tub time and can begin to play games in the tub.

The first baths newborns will receive are sponge baths, which do not require full body immersion into water. Just as in diapering, good preparation before the bath ensures a more successful bath time. Collect some lukewarm water, baby shampoo, body wash or soap, soft washcloth, warm towels, and a fresh diaper. To sponge bathe baby, first undress the baby down to their diaper, bundle them up in a towel to keep them warm, and then lay them on a firm and padded surface like a counter top or changing table. As well, just as in diapering, always have one hand on the baby to prevent falls.

Gradually clean and dry the baby part by part, from head to toe. First, gently wipe and blot the face with a warm, damp, slightly soapy washcloth, then rinse in the same manner with a soap-free washcloth and gently pat dry with a towel. Next, wash the head and hair the same way, or carefully try to run lukewarm water over the baby's head into the sink, to wash and rinse the hair. Then wash the rest of the body in the same manner, going from neck to chest, to arms, stomach (being careful to avoid the umbilical cord stump), legs and feet. Next, babies should be carefully flipped onto their stomachs on the surface so caregivers can wash and dry their back. Rotate the baby back over onto their back. After removing the diaper, gently wash and dry the genitals and finally the bottom, washing from front to back. To prevent infection, do not immerse the baby in water until the cord site is healed. Caregivers with sons should be prepared with an extra towel in case the boys choose to spray, which they often like to do when naked. When baby is clean and dry, caregivers diaper and dress baby warmly.

As babies grow and after their umbilical stump falls off, they can take submersion baths in the sink or bathtub. There are many different chairs and bathing seats caregivers can use to help keep babies steadier and safer in the tub. Some bathing seats allow babies to lie somewhat propped up to receive their bath in the sink or tub. As babies grow older and are able to sit up on their own, they can sit in a seat that looks much like a walker inside the bathtub. Babies can also take baths with caregivers, and this option is often useful for babies who do not like the water or do not like to feel alone in the water.

No matter what safety seat or method caregivers use, a baby should never be left alone in any depth of water. Babies can easily fall over and drown in water less than an inch deep. Parents or caregivers should stay with the baby at all times during bath time. Bathing in the tub is much like the sponge bath, as caregivers can wash and rinse baby from head to toe, part by part. After the bath, wrap the baby warmly in a towel and dry the baby before diapering and dressing. If they have patches of dry skin, use baby lotion in those areas to soothe and heal the dry skin.

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