Bathing your newborn
Bathing your baby can be a fun, pleasurable experience for both of you.
Many parents will formally do 'the baby bath' while others enjoy bathing with their baby in the big bath or shower. In the winter months you may prefer to 'top and tail' your baby (washing only their face and bottom) or you may bath your baby frequently as part of a relaxation and settling routine.
While initial nervousness about bathing a newborn baby is common with many parents, after a while most will use bath time to lovingly interact with their new baby. In recent years, parents have increasingly adopted the ritual of baby massage as a way to relax and nurture their baby either before or after a bath.
What you will need to bathe baby
Preparing everything for your baby's bath before you begin will help avoid searching for things with a dripping wet baby, or the temptation to leave them to grab what you need (which should NEVER be done!) Having everything at hand will also lessen the time it takes to dress and undress your baby, minimising their being upset or crying. This can help create a more positive bath experience for both you and your baby.
The preparations suggested below are for a formal baby bath.
While your baby is still sleeping, or lying somewhere safe, you can prepare the scene by organising the following:
• A baby bath or a large laundry bowl (used specifically for bathing) that you can stand onto a firm surface, like the dining table or kitchen bench.
• You can use the bathroom or laundry sink if it is big enough. (Avoid using the kitchen sink as germs from your baby's bottom, or if they poo in the bath, should not come in contact with where you wash your eating and cooking utensils).
• Remember to move the taps out of the way, or cover them with a hand towel or flannel, so your baby does not bump their head.
• A bucket or ice cream container or smaller bowl. This is to fill and empty the bath with, if you don't have any help at hand. Don't try and fill the bath then carry it somewhere else, especially in the early weeks when your body is still recovering. If you have had a Caesarean then leave it for your partner to empty when they get home.
• All your fresh clothes and nappy equipment.
• Something soft to lay your baby on while undressing them and after the bath. This can be a folded towel, a change mat, thick baby wrap or a sheepskin with a towel placed on top.
• One or two towels (or possibly an extra dry flannel or hand towel). Try and make sure the towel is soft and not hard and scratchy, as this may irritate your baby's soft skin. If the towel is a bit rough, just pat dry rather than rub.
• Cotton wool balls and / or a clean face washer or flannel.
• If you wish to, Sorbelene cream, or water-dispersible oil added to the bath, or a very mild baby soap or baby liquid soap preparation.
• If keen, a baby comb or hairbrush, although these are not essential (a quick towel will generally do).
You may wish to consider some simple safety tips. These may help 'baby proof' bath time (so to speak) and can include:
• Making sure the room is warm with no draughts, particularly during the colder months.
• Getting everything that you need before bathing, so you have it all these within easy reach.
• Make sure the plug does not have any protruding parts that can be uncomfortable on your baby's bottom, a flat rubber one may be better.
• Turning the phone down or off, or let it go to the answering machine or voicemail. If you feel you need to answer it, wrap your baby in a towel and take them with you. (A cordless handset is a great investment for a new mother!)
NEVER leave your baby unattended in the bath, babies can drown in centimetres of water.
Your baby will need a lot of nappy changes of the next few years. Here are some simple steps to help make changetime easier.
Changing a nappy will become easier with practise. If using cloth, the changing may take a little longer to master. There are many ways to fold a nappy. You may be shown one method or another by your caregiver or the hospital midwives.
Irrespective of how you fold a cloth nappy, it is important that the nappy goes on fairly firmly (but not so it prevents your child from breathing!) and does its job to catch everything!
Have everything you need ready before you start changing. Set up your clean disposable, or fold your cloth nappy and place the liner on (if using these).
During the first week (when the cord clamp is on and the umbilical cord stump is separating), it is better to fold cloth nappies underneath the baby's navel. Disposables will usually sit comfortably over this area without worrying your baby.
Place your baby on their back and undress their lower body. If the room temperature is cool, make sure you keep their chest covered. (You may wish to place a folded cloth, or plastic change mat underneath them if changing in the cot or on your bed).
Undo the tabs (disposable nappy) or take off the pins or plastic fasteners (cloth nappy) and lift the front of the nappy down towards you. You can place the pins in your clothing or use the bed, pillow or mat as a 'pin cushion' to keep them safe from baby (do not do this on a waterbed!)
Be warned: Babies tend to pee when the cooler air hits their skin. For baby girls this ends up being wet patch under their bottoms, for boys it is more like a wayward fountain that can end up on your shirt (or on the baby's face!). Most parents learn quickly to hold the nappy over their baby boy's penis for a while (or use a spare cloth or nappy while getting organised) to avoid being sprayed!
If the nappy is dirty, wipe any poo off their bottom using an unsoiled section of the nappy. Do this by holding your baby's feet and ankles in one hand and slightly lifting their bottom up to get underneath. Make sure your grip is secure, but gentle, placing one or two fingers between their ankles to help prevent their ankles from being pressed uncomfortably together. Once most of the poo is wiped off, fold the nappy over the soiled area so the baby is now lying on a clean piece of the nappy.
Gently clean your baby's bottom. To clean the back section, lift their legs up to raise the bottom slightly, or turn them onto their side if the poo is up their back (rather than lifting their legs too high up and placing excess pressure on their shoulders and neck.
How to clean your baby
When washing your baby's genitals, you only need to wash what you can see. Girls do not need to have their labia separated to 'clean inside' and uncircumcised boys should never have their foreskin pushed back.
After washing the urine and poo off, gently pat their skin dry. You can apply creams if you want (or if they have nappy rash). If you do use cream, make sure you wipe your hands and fingertips before putting on a disposable nappy. Otherwise the sticky tabs won't stick properly.
NOTE: If your baby likes being without a nappy, you can leave them for a while to enjoy the air on their skin - but do not leave them unattended. Some parents give their baby 'nappy free' time every day. They place them in their cot or on a mat on the floor with a towel or a plastic backed sheet underneath them. Make sure the room is warm and the baby has their upper body dressed (unless the weather is very warm).
Putting on the nappy
To put the clean nappy on, hold your baby's ankles and feet again, slightly lifting their bottom, and slide the nappy under their bottom. The top of the nappy should be in line with your baby's waist. If using disposables, the side with the tabs goes under the baby's bottom, so that the tabs end up sticking on the front of the nappy.
Bring the front of the nappy up between your baby's legs. For baby boys, you will need to point his penis towards his feet, (otherwise he will wee up over the nappy wetting all his clothing). Bring the sides of the nappies over and secure the tabs or overlap the cloth and secure with safety pin(s) or fasteners. You may wish to put on a Pilcher or over-pants if using cloth.
NOTE: Make sure you have your fingers under where the pin is being inserted, on top of your baby's skin. It is much better to stick the pin into your finger then their belly!
Now you can re-dress your baby and make them comfortable. Don't worry if they cry while you change them, most babies are not keen on having their nappy changed and after a while your speed and agility will make the experience shorter and less stressful for both of you.
Once you baby is back in the cot, (and not in danger of rolling off the change area) you can leave them to clean up. Scrape as much of the poo off the nappy into the toilet. Rinse the remaining poo on the cloth nappy under cold water in the laundry washtub, or in the toilet, and then place into a bucket for soaking in a nappy solution, (or place straight in the bucket if just wet).
If using disposables, fold the nappy in on itself and re-secure the tabs to hold the nappy together, before placing in the garbage. You may wish to put a soiled nappy into a plastic bag first.
Always wash your hands after changing, especially before feeding the baby straight after changing. If your baby is crying, it is better to let them wail a little longer, than feed them with dirty hands.
Baby massage is one of the nicest ways to bond with your baby. Here is a guide to basic baby massage and its benefits.
Being touched, stroked and held is one of our basic human needs. This need starts from birth and continues throughout our lives.
Babies' benefit from being cuddled touched and loved. They grow, develop and thrive on these interactions. They can also enjoy the skin to skin contact, touching and stroking involved in using massage. Baby massage has been part of several cultures for many years. In some countries, babies are routinely massaged daily, from the time of their birth. Often this is initially given by the midwife, then the mother (or the extended family), carry out the daily massaging. Some Asian countries incorporate firm Shiatsu pressure points as part of their massage technique.
Touching is a way of expressing tenderness, love and compassion. It can also be used as a tool to help soothe and comfort a crying baby. Massage is a way of communicating with your baby, and for your baby to communicate with you. This can be demonstrated when they reach out to touch you, show their delight, or become soothed by your touch.
Massage can also help increase a parent's confidence in their new role of caring for their baby. It may allow a special 'quiet time' together, when you can get to know each other better.
Baby massage in western countries has become very popular in the last decade or so. It has gone from being something rarely used by parents, to a thriving industry promoted by many health professionals, with courses being run to train in its use. Baby massage may now be taught to parents during childbirth education classes and in many of the larger maternity hospitals after the birth, either on the postnatal ward or in the intensive care nurseries, for premature babies.
Babies will respond to being massaged in different ways. Some will relax and almost fall asleep, while others may become quite active and move their legs and arms around! Often very young babies will initially dislike being unwrapped and massaged, possibly crying for the first few massage sessions, until they adjust to the experience. When massaging your baby, be aware of how your baby reacts and respond by comforting them if they are upset. Take note of which types of stroking or massaging they enjoy most.
The main aim of baby massage is to relax your baby and produce 'a sense of well being', for them to be calmed and nurtured (as it can for adults). However, touching and holding a small baby can be very daunting, particularly if you are not used to doing this. The repeated massage may help you feel more comfortable with handling your baby. Some fathers will use baby massage as an opportunity to literally 'get in touch' with their baby, and help strengthen their physical and emotional relationship after being away from them at work. This can increase their confidence and provide another tool to help soothe and comfort their baby, especially at times when mum needs a break.
Many parents will involve older children in the massaging routine for the new baby. Most siblings love to touch and caress their new brother or sister (supervised of course, as many young children are not aware of when they are applying too much pressure).
Massage is not only rewarding for your baby but for the person giving it
Dressing and undressing your baby
Baby clothes are ever-so-cute, but you'll need a lot of them as baby will need changing regularly. Here's why.
Newborn babies will generally need dressing and undressing on a daily basis, sometimes 2 to 4 changes in a 24 hour period.
Reasons for a change of clothes
Baby can need a change of clothes for many reasons, including:
• When bathing.
• If they become excessively wet or soiled from leaking nappies.
• Regurgitation (or vomiting) of milk after feeding. (Having a spare cloth nappy or hand towel handy may help to avoid the need to change.)
• Adding or taking off layers of clothing due to weather changes.
• Going on a days outing and dressing up for the occasion.
Most babies hate being undressed and will cry in protest when you take all their clothes off. After a while they will adjust to this 'changing' routine. Make sure you change your baby on a soft surface and keep the period of time they are naked to a minimum, so they don't become too cold. The room should be a pleasant temperature and the doors and windows closed to stop draughts.
Have all the clothes you need within arm's reach, with the items you'll need first on top of the pile. Stretch any neck holes open wide and gently guide them over your baby's head, taking care over your baby's nose and eyes. Then gently guide their arms into any armholes. Talk to your baby and maintain eye contact while you're changing to keep baby distracted and happy.
You should change your baby on something at a comfortable height. If changing them on your bed, kneel on the floor. It is important that you avoid overstretching and twisting your body, especially for the woman in the early weeks after the birth. Never leave your baby unsupervised on anything that is off the ground. If you need to get something, answer the door or telephone, or rescue a toddler, always take your baby with you.
*This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.
Newborn Needs and Care