Bathing and Hygiene

Part of your daily routine will be to keep your baby clean. This will be reasonably easy when she’s very small, but as your baby becomes more active you’ll find that you will not only have to clean her more often, but that it will require a bit more effort to manage the daily bath. However, by the time she’s two she will increasingly try to take control over washing her own body.


Most young babies don’t need bathing very often because, apart from their bottoms, faces, necks and skin creases, they don’t get very dirty. There is no reason why you shouldn’t go for two or three days without bathing her regard-less of what you were encouraged to do in hospital, as long as you clean the baby’s face, hands and bottom every day. You can do this without even putting the baby in the bath by topping and tailing.

Some parents feel apprehensive the first few times they bath their baby. However, if you set aside half an hour, have every-thing you need around you and try to relax you will probably enjoy it. After the first two or three times it will become fairly routine and you’ll wonder what your first bathtimc nerves were all about.

Where to bath your baby

Until she’s big enough to go into an adult bath you don’t have to use a bathroom to wash your baby. You can use the baby’s room, the kitchen or any other room that is warm and has enough space to lay out all that you need to bath your baby in comfort. The baby’s bath can be filled in the bathroom and then can-led to the chosen room (make sure you don’t fill it too full or the water will splash out as you walk from room to room).

A small baby can be washed in a specially designed, sculpted plastic bath with a non-slip surface. As it is most comfortable for you if you don’t have to bend too much, the bath should be placed on a table or worktop of a convenient height. Alternatively, you could place it on an adjustable stand (although they tend to be rather flimsy) or on a rack which straddles the bath.

If, however, you don’t have a baby bath there are some inexpensive, practical alternatives that you can use until your baby can go into the big bath. For example, a plastic household basin functions in exactly the same way as a baby bath and is useful because, like a baby bath, it can be carried anywhere you choose. Kitchen or bathroom sinks are also practical because they are generally at a comfortable height and they often have additional counter space to the side. However, you must make sure that the taps are well out of reach of your baby’s kicking legs. If they aren’t, they should be bound up with cloths or towels so that they can cause no harm. If the “bath” surface is too slippery, either use a plastic suction mat or line the bath with a small towel or nappy to provide traction for your baby’s bottom.

Topping and tailing

This method allows you to wash the parts of your newborn baby that really need it. with the minimum of disturbance and distress to the baby. As your baby gets older, you need not use boiled water; warm water will do.

Giving a sponge bath

If you’re a bit scared of giving your new baby a bath, or if she really hates being undressed, you can use the sponge bath method of washing. This way, the baby is held securely in your lap and only the minimum amount of clothing is removed. You could alternatively wash your baby on a mat. using the same techniques.

Using a bathtub

Between three and six months old your baby will outgrow most small baths and you will have to start using an adult one. If you think that your baby may be frightened by the size of this new bath, continue to use the small bath but place it inside the large, empty one until she gets used to it.

It is much more awkward to wash a baby in a big bath but you must still hold on to the baby’s arm until she can support herself. Don’t bend over the bath or you’ll strain your back. Instead, kneel by the bath and have everything that you need next to you on the floor. Use a plastic suction mat on the bottom of the bath to prevent the baby sliding about and keep the water shallow (no deeper than 4-5 in [10-13 cm]). It doesn’t take much for a wriggly, kicking baby to slip under the water so you must be vigilant at all times. Never, ever, leave your baby alone in the bath, even fora moment; don’t even turn away to attend to something else in the same room. If the phone rings either ignore it or take your wet baby with you. Leaving your baby, even for a second, is just not worth the risk.

As your baby gets older she’ll spend more and more time crawling about on the floor and, as a result, will need to be washed more often; baths will become a regular feature of the day. By this time she will no longer be scared of being undressed and will feel quite secure in the water. in fact, she will almost certainly have begun to enjoy bath times. It is therefore your job to make them as fun and trouble-free as possible.

As soon as your baby can sit up, always have a period at the end of the bath when she can enjoy splashing and playing with toys. Have some boats, ducks, sponges or mugs on hand so that she can experiment with them and see what they do. If you have two children, try occasionally bathing them together so that your older child can share games and can teach your baby about the things that water does. it’s exciting for your baby to see how containers can be filled and emptied or water poured from one to the other, and she’ll love watching how some toys float and others sink slowly to the bottom of the bath.


  • Never, ever, leave your baby alone in the bath. Even if you turn around for a moment she could slip under the water and drown.
  • Don’t let the baby stand up in the bath without your support — she could fall.
  • If your child starts to jump up and down — no doubt rejoicing in a newly found skill — be very firm about making her sit still; she could easily topple without your support.
  • Cover up hot taps with a flannel or towel so that she won’t get scalded.
  • Don’t pour more hot water into the bath with the baby in it —she may get scalded.
  • Don’t see if she can sit unsupported. She could easily tumble under the water and get a bad fright — bad enough to go off bathing for a while.
  • Don’t pull the plug out when the baby’s in the bath. She may be both frightened by the disappearing water and the noise.
  • Don’t dust your baby with talcum powder after a bath — it’s very drying to the skin.
  • If you’re at work during the day, make the most of bath time — it can be a great time to play and relax with your baby.
  • Make sure that you pick your baby out of the bath with your back straight, taking the strain with your thighs.

Care of the hair

To prevent cradle cap from forming you should wash your newborn’s head every day with a soft bristle brush and a little baby shampoo. To prevent any scales forming you should comb through the hair, even if she has very little. If cradle cap does appear, smear a little baby oil on her scalp and wash it off the following morning. This will dissolve the scales, making them soft, loose and easy to wash away. Don’t be tempted to pick them off with your lingers.

After about twelve to sixteen weeks wash your baby’s head with water every day and once or twice a week with baby shampoo. You can either use a football carry (if the baby is quite light) or you can sit on the edge of the bath with the baby across your legs, facing you. (This method is especially useful if she’s scared of the water.) Make sure that you use a non-sting variety of baby shampoo, but nevertheless take care to avoid getting it near her eyes. Don’t worry about the newborn’s fontanelles. They are covered with a very sturdy membrane. and you can do no harm if you are gentle. You need not scrub the hair. Modern detergents get dirt and oil off hair within seconds, so you just have to bring the shampoo to a lather, count to twenty and then rinse it off again. One wash is quite enough, and your baby’s hair will be absolutely clean at the end of this operation. Rinse your baby’s hair by simply dipping the flannel into the basin of warm water and wiping it over her head. Try and get as much off as possible, but if your child is complaining it really doesn’t matter if you leave slight traces on the hair. Dry her head with the end of the towel, taking care not to cover the baby’s face or she will become very distressed and panicky.

Care of the skin

A newborn has no need of soap. It is a defatting agent and your baby’s skin is delicate. She needs to preserve all the natural oils so use only water until about six weeks. After then, any soap you choose can be used — you may want to try a special liquid soap which is simply added to the bath water and needs no rinsing off. Make sure that you wash any folds and creases properly by running a soapy finger along them then rinsing well. thy the skin thoroughly—any moist creases will lead to irritations; never use powders.

Care of the eyes

When you wash your baby’s eyes, squeeze a couple of cotton wool balls in the warm water, and use a different one to wash each closed eye, starting from the inner pan of the eye and working to the outer.

Care of the nose and ears

The nose and ears are self-cleaning organs so you should never try to push anything up them or in them or interfere with them in any way. Pushing something the size of a cotton bud up a baby’s nose or into a baby’s ears, will only push whatever is there further in. It is much better to let whatever is in the nose come down naturally. Never put drops into the ears or nose except under a doctor’s instruction. Never try to scrape wax out of a baby’s ears even though you can see it. Wax is the natural secretion of the skin lining the canal of the outer ear. It is antiseptic and it prevents dust and grit getting near the ear drum. Some babies make more than others, but removing it will only result in the production of even more. Removing wax irritates the skin, so leave it alone and consult your doctor if you are concerned about it. Wash your baby’s ears and nose using a soft facecloth.

Care of the nails

There is no need to cut a newborn baby’s nails for about three or four weeks, unless your baby is scratching her skin. Nails are easiest to cut when they are soft so have a pair of small, blunt-ended scissors nearby when you take your baby out of the bath. If you do them immediately you’ll be able to cut the nails of both hands and toes in less than half a minute. If. however, you are worried about cutting your baby’s nails try doing it when your baby is asleep. Or bite them off yourself — your mouth will be sensitive to every move she makes and it will be impossible to hurt her.

Care of the navel

When your baby’s born you’ll probably be advised to gently wipe the umbilical stump with surgical spirit and sterile cotton wool, and to then put sterile gauze over it: You don’t have to wait for the navel to heal before you give your baby a bath as long as you dry it thoroughly afterwards.

Care of the genitals

You should never try to open the lips of your baby girl’s vulva to clean inside; there is no need. Just wash the exterior nappy area. However, you should take care to wipe from the front back towards the anus whenever you are cleaning the nappy area. This minimizes the risk of bacteria spreading from the bowels to the bladder, causing infection. An uncircumcised baby boy should not have his foreskin pulled back for cleaning. Just wash the exterior of the nappy area as normal; the foreskin will retract naturally at about 4 years.


Fear of undressing

Many young babies become extremely distressed when they are undressed. They hate the feeling of air on their bodies, preferring instead the security of being fully clothed or swaddled tightly. When your baby’s very small you can get around this by giving sponge baths or by topping and tailing.

Fear of bathing

If your baby is absolutely terrified of having a bath, skip it for a couple of days and then try again, very gently, using only a little water in the bath. Until your baby is ready to go back into the bath give sponge baths or top and tail.

If, after some time, she still doesn’t like being bathed and remains frightened of water, try to overcome it by introducing bath time in a play context. In a warm room (but not the bathroom), lay out a towel with a large plastic bowl full of water next to it. Put some float able toys and plastic beakers into the bowl, undress your baby and encourage her to play with the toys. She’ll gradually get used to the idea of being near it.

When she seems happy and confident help your baby to paddle in the water: if your kitchen is warm put a towel on the draining board, fill the sink with warm water and let your baby dangle her feet while sitting on the towel. Make sure that you keep a firm grip on your baby with one hand while you play with toys and beakers with the other, and that all the taps are bound up with a cloth.

Do this a couple of times then swap the bowl or kitchen sink for a baby bath and let your baby play in the same way as before. You’ll know she’s overcome any fear when she struggles to get into the water with the toys. Let your baby do this a couple of times before you turn it into an occasion for washing as well.

Fear of the big bath

Once your baby is splashing about and making a mess in the small baby bath,she is ready to go into a big bath. However, if your child is frightened of getting into a big bath, you’ll have to build up to it gradually. Place the baby bath inside the big bath and put a towel or a rubber mat next to it so that she can’t slip. Sit her in the big bath along with some toys and fill up the baby bath with warm water a.s usual. Then let her climb into the baby bath. Once she is happy doing this, you can introduce a few inches of water into the big bath, with the towel or rubber mat in the bottom and all the toys, as before, and the baby bath full of warm water. She will then probably climb in and out of the baby bath and quickly get used to sitting in the big bath in just a few inches of water. You can then increase the amount of water in the big bath, leaving the baby bath there until she is no longer interested in it. This makes the transition fairly painless, and does quite a lot to increase your child’s confidence.

Dislike of hair washing

A baby who thoroughly enjoys having a bath, may hate hair washing and she will probably develop this dislike around eight or nine months old. Even though you may be gentle and take every precaution to make sure that your child isn’t frightened by hair washing, you may find that it remains a problem until your child is of school age. so it is worth getting the technique right from the start.

  • Young children hate to get water in the eyes, let alone soap, so do everything you can to keep your baby’s face and eyes dry throughout the whole operation of hair washing.
  • Never pour water over your child’s head just to prove that it won’t hurt. Few children under the age of six can stand this, and if it is done suddenly to them they find it extremely unpleasant. Don’t continue the washing operation if she screams or struggles and never forcibly hold your child so that you can get her hair washed. You may have an accident, like getting some soap into her eyes, which will make the whole incident much worse. It will also make all future attempts to wash your child’s hair very difficult and fraught experiences for both of you.
  • Once your child strenuously objects to hair washing, give up and don’t try again for three or four weeks. Bath times are generally happy for most children, so it is better to dissociate hair washing from bath times if it’s unpleasant. if you find bits of food in your child’s hair, simply sponge them out or wait until they are dry before brushing them out with a soft, damp brush. It really doesn’t matter if your child’s hair is greasy; it will come to no harm.
  • Another way of keeping the water from your baby’s face is to use a specially-designed headband. This fits like a halo around the hairline and allows you to rinse off any shampoo without getting soapy water all over your baby’s face.
  • You may find that your baby will let you wash her hair as long as she’s being held by you. Sit with the baby on your lap next to a basin of warm water, and use a flannel to wet the baby’s head before you use a non-sting shampoo. So that no water gets onto the baby’s face, rinse the water off with a damp facecloth, not by pouring water over the head. She won’t be disturbed by this because she’ll feel no water trickling over either her head or her body.


As your child gets older she will probably regard bath time primarily as playtime. You should therefore keep bath times as cheerful as possible — a pleasant time of the day in which to relax before being put to bed. Encourage your child to wash herself by having a special sponge that she can use Until she’s developed adequate coordination she won’t make a perfect job of it so be prepared to go over the same areas with another facecloth. Soap both your child’s hands by holding a bar of soap between them, and show her how to spread the soap over the body and arms.

Daily routine

Most children need a wash in the morning but it’s probably best to leave it until after breakfast. A child is often ravenously hungry when she wakes up, and you’ll only have time to change the soggy nappy before food becomes imperative. After your child has eaten she’ll be more willing to stand still and to have face and hands washed, teeth brushed, and hair combed. By the time she’s about one and a half she’ll be able to rinse both hands under water and, with improving co-ordination, will learn to soap them. Do remember, though, that she’ll not always remember the routine of hand washing: sleeves may not be rolled up, jumpers may get wet and soap may slip out of tiny fingers. So always be close by to lend a hand should she need it.


Start hygiene routines young and, where possible, teach by example. For instance, from the time that your child starts to crawl and get her hands dirty, washing before eating should become automatic. If you start by washing your hands with your child (and I mean with), by getting your hands soapy together and washing each others hands, it can become fun. While you’re teaching your child how to wash you can make a game of it by trying to blow bubbles with the soap film that forms between your forefinger and thumb when you make a circle. Afterwards, let your child inspect yours and then you look at your child’s.

If you start like this it makes it easier to apply hygienic rules at other times. For example, hand washing should always follow going to the lavatory. But you should start at the potty stage and do it with your child every single time.

Handling pets requires special rules. Stop your child from kissing a pet, especially near its nose or mouth, and encourage washing after playing with the pet: it should be a rule not to touch food or eat anything after playing with a pet. if your pet gets worms of any kind, stop your child playing with it until the worm treatment has been given and has worked successfully. The same applies to any animal infestation like fleas or ticks.


Fear of hair washing If your child really hates having her hair washed, keep the hair very short so that it needs only sponging to keep it clean One of the major reasons why children hate having their hair washed is that they don’t like water going over their faces. To overcome this you’ll have to encourage your child to believe that hair washing won’t hurt and that it won’t feel nasty when water is rinsed over her head.

  • Make a game out of hair washing. It will become much more fun from your child’s point of view if you get into the bath as well and wash your own hair. Rinse it with a plastic jug of water and make out that it’s great fun pouring water over your head.
  • If you have an older child you could prove that it doesn’t hurt by letting the smaller child help you wash the elder’s hair. Once you’ve lathered up the shampoo, hold the frightened child and let herrub both her hands through the bubbles. If possible, get the child to help pour the rinsing water over, too. Alternatively. wash a doll’s hair in the bath with your toddler’s assistance. Let your child help with the rinsing and then suggest that you do it to her hair. With any luck she’ll just take this as part of the game. Alternatively, encourage your child to wet her own hair with a facecloth and put a tiny bit of shampoo into both hands so that she can participate.
  • An older child is also useful in proving that a wet face isn’t unpleasant. For example, the elder child may well be proud of holding her breath under water and once your child is about three she might want to join in with this game, even if it means only putting nose and mouth under the surface for a count of five.
  • Another way of getting your child used to water on the face is to take her swimming. Once she’s got used to splashing and getting wet hair you’ll be able to start hair washing. This is especially easy if you have a shower after swimming. You can then gently and deftly introduce the idea of having a shampoo in the shower using a non-sting baby shampoo: a quick shampoo should take no longer than a couple of minutes. You can also use the shower attachment at home, encouraging the child to play with the spray, playing it up to her shoulders and eventually on to her hair and face. Once again, when she’s used to wet hair, you can quickly shampoo and rinse it.

Fear of water

A few children hate water and bath times for these children and their parents will be very distressing. Probably the easiest way of overcoming this fear is to make bath times as happy and relaxing as possible, with plenty of playtime included. Try to find out what is frightening your child: is it the size of the bath; is it the amount of water in it; is it related to an incident, for example slipping and suddenly being ducked under the water? If it is the size of the bath that causes the worry, introduce alternatives, like the kitchen sink or a large washing-up bowl. Your child will probably sit quite happily on a towel on the draining board, playing and dipping her feet into the water . This should also help if she’s scared of the volume of water, as will playing with a shower attachment or a garden hose (as long as the water is coming out gently).

Ironically, swimming can be used to overcome your child’s fear of water although you’ll have to introduce the subject gently. Once you’ve tried the methods above, and your child has shown signs of progress, you can think about going swimming. If you can, take advantage of swimming classes which you can attend with your child and where you do most of the teaching (with help from an instructor if you need it). Being able to swim may save your child’s life and, if possible, you should make sure that she can swim before she goes to school.


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