Are you wondering how often you should bathe your baby or toddler? (how often should you bathe baby or toddler) If so, don’t feel silly! A lot of parents find themselves googling questions about parenthood that, once upon a time, would have seemed to have obvious answers. And, as it turns out, there are plenty of opinions about how many baths our young children should receive each week.
In this article:
Why bathing is good
Let’s face it: kids can get dirty by just existing. Between the occasional spit up from an infant to a toddler deciding to mash food all over his chest, it’s no surprise that kids need baths to remain clean and smelling fresh. But bathing does more than promote good hygiene.
Bonding: Creating and maintaining a bond with your child is vital to his development. If you’re a mom to a biological child, you have a head start on fostering the parent-child relationship. You have already begun to form a bond during your pregnancy, and the gentle touching of your baby as you bathe him increases this connection.
If you have adopted, used a surrogate, or are a proud papa, bath time is a great time to develop your parental bond further. Talking while you wash, gentle massages and plenty of eye contact are all perfect bath time activities.
Free play: Some babies and toddlers love bath time because they can play with toys, splash around, and, once they’re old enough, use their imaginations to turn their tubs into magical worlds. This type of play is not only fun, but it can also encourage cognitive development and allow for a great bonding opportunity.1Bathing Your Baby
Bath toys are more appropriate for infants six months and older when vision has fully developed and fine motor skills have matured enough to grasp toys.
Bedtime and baths: Washing your baby means lots of gentle touching and massaging, which stimulates the vagus nerve, leading to a slower heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and even triggering a state of calm within the brain. Anyone would have an easier time falling asleep in this state!2LEE, H. K. (2002). Effects of sponge bathing on vagal tone and behavioural responses in premature infants.Journal of clinical nursing, 11(4), 510-519.
Skin checks: Babies can be prone to an array of skin issues, such as eczema, allergies, and diaper rash. It’s essential to regularly check your little one for any signs of these ailments, and bathtime provides the perfect opportunity to give that baby skin a thorough once over.
Avoid bathing immediately after birth
The World Health Organisation currently recommends that caregivers wait at least 6 hours, but preferably 24 hours, before bathing a newborn.
Your baby is born covered with vernix caseosa, a protective layer consisting of water, protein, and fats. This moisturizing film minimizes friction while your baby passes down the birth canal. Once your baby is born, it can help prevent the skin from cracking or peeling by locking in moisture if left in place. There is also some evidence that the vernix caseosa can help your newborn’s body to regulate his temperature.3Bathing Your Baby
Doctors also urge patience before giving the first bath to avoid separating mother and child during a crucial bonding period. Babies that stay with their mothers immediately after birth often breastfeed with more ease than those whisked away for a bath.4Delayed Bathing
How often you should bathe your baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to give their newborns sponge baths until the umbilical cord’s stump has fallen away, and the navel has healed. If your baby recently has been circumcised, any bathing should be done with a sponge bath while the area heals.5Infant and toddler health
Once your newest little family member is all healed up, you can begin giving them more traditional baths by partially filling a tub, sink, or basin with water.
You might find that your baby has grown to love bath time between the ages of three and twelve months. In this case, you can bathe him more often for relaxation purposes or to allow him to play in the water. It is best to only use baby-friendly soap for one or two baths per week.66 to 12 months
Remember, you can always “spot clean” in lieu of a full bath if your baby has a diaper blow out or spits up.
Younger infants can pass up to six stools per day, especially if breastfed. Irritation can develop if the diaper area is not well cleaned after stooling. In clinical practice, I recommend that parents rinse the baby’s bottom under warm water in a sink after stooling. This cleans the area more effectively, and prevents the need for frequent wiping which can further irritate the very sensitive infant skin.
How often you should bathe your toddler
It’s no secret that toddlers throw themselves at life and can make quite a mess doing so. It’s okay to give them a soak more often, especially if they have been wearing suntan lotion or bug repellent. If you choose to use a baby wash, most are formulated so that they are gentle on infant skin.7Blume‐Peytavi, U., Lavender, T., Jenerowicz, D., Ryumina, I., Stalder, J. F., Torrelo, A., & Cork, M. J. (2016). Recommendations from a European roundtable meeting on best practice healthy infant skincare.Pediatric Dermatology, 33(3), 311-321.
How to give a sponge bath
To give a grade A sponge bath, you should8Bathing Your Baby
- Pick a flat surface (e.g. changing table or countertop) in a warm room.
- Fill a sink or basin with warm water.
- Wrap your baby gently in a blanket or towel and place him on the flat surface. Always keep a hand on your child.
- Wet a soft washcloth, wringing out the excess water.
- Carefully wipe your baby’s eyelids from the inside corner out with plain water.
- Gently wipe the rest of his face, paying particular attention to the area behind his ears, with plain water.
- Pat the skin dry and put a hat on your child to help him keep warm.
- Bathe your baby in sections, uncovering each area as you wash and re-covering to keep him warm.
- Be sure to get in between fingers and toes and wash within all those cute creases, around his diaper area, and under his arms.
- Follow up with an appropriate lotion to protect the skin.
How to bathe your baby
- Fill a basin, tub, or sink with 2 or 3 inches of lukewarm water.
- Lie a warm towel on a flat surface near where you are bathing.
- Gently wash your baby’s face with a washcloth dampened by plain water, washing his eyelids from the inside corner outwards.
- Wash his hair with gentle, baby-friendly shampoo if desired, and rinse well. Take extra care that soapy water doesn’t drip into his eyes.
- Place your baby on the towel and gently dry his hair and face before placing a hat over his head.
- Place your baby in the tub.
- Put a small amount of soap on the washcloth if desired and gently cleanse his skin, starting at the chest and working your way out and then down. Be sure to pay special attention to the diaper area, wrinkles, and in between the fingers and toes.
- Remove your baby from the tub, wrap him in a blanket, and replace his diaper as soon as possible.
For hair washing, keep the shampoo away from the baby’s eyes by massaging it onto the scalp using motions toward the back of the head. Rinsing the shampoo is easiest by allowing warm water to run off the back of the head and away from the eyes.
Check out this video for a step-by-step demonstration.
How to bathe your toddler
Your bathing method won’t change too much as your kiddo enters his toddler stage. You will want to:
- Fill the tub, sink, or basin with a few inches of water, or until it reaches your baby’s waist.
- Place your child into the water.
- Gently start washing him from the head down, paying attention to the same areas as you did when he was younger. Soap is still optional at this point.
- Dry your kiddo off and apply liberal amounts of lotion to his skin.
- Always have everything you need within reach
- Check the water temperature to be sure it is safe for the baby
- Put a non-slip mat in the tub for your older baby
- Keep a hand on your child at all times
- Teach your toddler not to stand in the tub
- Make sure your toddler doesn’t begin playing with the water handles
- Keep baths short
- Have a positive attitude during bathtime
- Infant bath seats are a safety hazard and not recommended9Infant Water Safety: Protect Your New Baby from Drowning
- Always supervise bathtime
Reasons not to over bathe
Believe it or not, there is a lot of support for the less is more line of thinking when it comes to babies and baths. So why and when should you go against your natural instinct to keep your kiddo squeaky clean?
Your little one has skin that is thin and unable to retain moisture as well as yours can. Unfortunately, too many dips in the tub can make this worse, especially if you are regularly using soap or shampoo. If you notice your kiddo has started sporting flakey patches of dry skin, you should
- Reduce bath time to 3-5 minutes per soak
- Put away the soap for a while, and just use plain water
- Make sure the water isn’t too hot
- Be sure to thoroughly pat your kiddo dry before putting diapers or other clothing on
- Use a hydrating lotion on your baby’s skin after each bath10Baby Skin Care Slideshow: Simple Tips to Keep Baby’s Skin Healthy
- Consult a doctor if these measures are not effective
It sounds counterintuitive, but letting your baby have some exposure to bacteria and viruses can be GOOD for their immune health. Exposure to these elements causes the creation of antibodies, allowing your child’s immune system to become more robust.
It’s okay to be tired
I know you want to be super mama all the time, but motherhood is exhausting! You have plenty of necessary things to do, like regular feedings and constant diaper changes, to keep your child alive and healthy. Right now, frequent baths are not among those things; don’t bend over backward to squeeze in extra tub time. Besides, you don’t want your baby to associate negative feelings with his baths; you want those cleansing suds to have happy, relaxing connections.
Eczema and baby baths
A common skin ailment among babies, eczema is characterized by red patches of crusty skin. It can be made worse by dry skin, soaps that are too harsh, and allergies. Often infants outgrow this condition, but it’s wise to seek a medical opinion on whether or not any medications are warranted.
You should avoid any harsh products while your baby is healing from eczema, but you can still bathe him using gentle, fragrance free soaps or just plain, lukewarm water. Adding baby-safe oatmeal products to the bath can help relieve itchiness, but don’t let your little one soak for more than 10 minutes.12Does My Baby Have Eczema?
If your baby’s eczema seems to worsen with the use of an oatmeal-based product, this could be a sign of an allergy to oats. In clinical practice, I have seen this phenomenon as young as four months. If this occurs, it should be discussed with your baby’s doctor as it can affect when oats are introduced as a first food into the diet.
Making bath time a fun time
Bath time doesn’t have to be all cleaning and no fun. There are plenty of ways to engage your baby and put him at ease if the water makes him nervous.
Tickle and touch
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a baby who doesn’t giggle for the occasional tickle. If that’s not really your kiddo’s style, then opt for a soothing massage or gentle strokes along his skin. Nothing makes a baby happier or more at ease than a loving touch.
You’re going to have to clean up after a bath anyway, so what’s a few more damp spots to wipe up? Many babies are left in awe as they watch an array of bubbles float around the room. It might even give you the distraction you need to clean between your little one’s toes!
Songs and stories
I promise you that you have the voice of an angel (according to your baby), so don’t be afraid to bust out a tune whenever your kiddo is in the tub. Not gonna happen? That’s okay; you can always tell a story. Both these methods are great at engaging babies and encourage bonding.
You can never go wrong with bath toys. Heck, I remember some of my favorite bath time trinkets to this day! Just remember to regularly check them for mold growth and buy large toys that small hands can grab.
How often you bathe your baby or toddler is, in many ways, a matter of personal preference. Just remember to wait until the umbilical cord stump falls off, and the naval and any circumcision incision has healed before graduating from sponge baths. After that, you only need to bathe your baby a few times a week. If you choose to wash your child more often than that, don’t over-do it with soapy products, keep an eye out for dry skin, and make bath time fun for your kiddo. Happy bathtub sailing!
And, as it turns out, there are plenty of opinions about how often you should bathe your child.