Watch any commercial for a baby bath product and the process of bathing an infant is made to look like a dreamy bonding experience that delights everyone involved. And sure, everyone has those moments, but truthfully, bathing a wiggly, helpless infant can be more than a little terrifying.

There are ways to help make bath time safe, effective and — most days — fun.

Amy Finch, a nurse, lactation consultant and childbirth educator with Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, said bath time for a newborn starts out with sponge baths.

“You always want to wait until the umbilical cord falls off before you do a tub bath,” she said. “Most parents start with an infant tub that fits in the sink or the tub.”

Water temperature really is a Goldilocks moment that can keep baby safe and comfortable if it’s just right. Finch suggests setting the water heater temperature to less than 120 degrees and always using a bath thermometer to check the water before baby gets wet. It should be between 90 and 100 degrees.

“Fill the infant tub with just a few inches of water — it doesn’t take much,” Finch said.

The single most important step in bathing baby doesn’t involve special soap or the right equipment. Constant adult supervision is key at all times.

“Don’t leave baby alone even for a second to run and get something,” Finch said. “Babies can drown in an inch of water.”

If you have to step away, wrap baby in a dry towel and take him or her with you.

It helps to have everything gathered together in advance. Try a shower caddy or a decorative basket to hold baby soap/shampoo, a bath thermometer, toys, washcloths and wipes. A knee pad typically used for gardening can be a joint saver for parents.

As baby grows, a spout cover can be helpful to prevent injury when baby gets more mobile. Toys are essential, but need not be expensive specialty products. A stack of plastic cups can be loads of fun.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated toys at all,” Finch said. “Things around the house, like cups, work great.”

With babies who are not yet mobile, Finch said a bath is probably only needed two or three times per week.

“On days when you aren’t giving a bath, wash their face and hands,” she said. “You can bathe baby any time of the day. If they get relaxed, closer to bedtime is good. If they splash around and enjoy it, morning is good.”

No matter when it happens or how you play, consider bath time an investment in much more than good hygiene.

“A lot of parents find that it becomes one of their favorite times of day,” Finch said. “It starts out as an experience you are nervous about, but the more you do it, you can have that eye-to-eye contact and play in the water together. It can be the start of a great bedtime routine. It can run into getting pajamas on and story time. Infants and toddlers thrive on routine. That consistency helps them know that it’s time for bed.”

January is Bath Safety Month. Consider these tips from US Swim School Association for making bath time safe and setting the stage for water safety in the pool this summer:

Bathtub Safety Tips

• Fill your bathtub with the amount of water normally used during bathing and use a stopwatch to time how long it takes to drain. Never leave the bathroom unsupervised after a bath until that amount of time has passed.

• Do not turn on the faucet and allow a bathtub to fill with water without a parent in the room watching at all times.

• Learn how to properly perform age appropriate CPR in case an accident ever does occur.

• If you always lift your children into and out of the tub during bath time, teach your kids how to and have them practice getting in and out of the tub on their own while you supervise.

Tips for teaching water safety at bath time

• Showering with baby can help accustom him/her to the feeling of water splashing down his/her face and help with learning to breathe in water.

• Before you pour water over your baby’s head, give a cue that the water is about to come splashing down. This helps stop babies from being startled and associating water on their faces with being scared and uncertain.

• Blowing bubbles helps babies learn they are in control of their breath and makes them comfortable with putting their face in water.

Source: US Swim School Association,

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