“What could be simpler than a bath?” asked every person who’s never had to bath a newborn. Because knowing when and how often to bath her, learning to keep that delicate little neck supported, in slippery water, while trying to sponge her gently, and staying calm and confident… it can all feel a bit like trying to wrestle an octopus. We asked the experts for some dos and don’ts, and a step-by-step guide to help you through the first baths LET NATURE DO ITS THING
The World Health Organisation recommends not bathing a newborn for at least 24 hours after birth. This is to allow time for the body to absorb vernix – the beneficial antibacterial substance full of proteins and amino acids left over from the womb.
LESS IS MORE
Newborn skin is incredibly delicate – too many baths can dry out the skin and leave it susceptible to rashes and infections. Registered nurse, lactation consultant and midwife Hettie Grove says a bath every two to three days is more than enough (and perhaps too much if you’re in drought-stricken Cape Town!)
TOP AND TAIL
When it does come time for baby’s first bath, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a sponge until the umbilical cord stump falls off and the naval heals, which usually takes a few weeks. This type of bath – also called “top and tailing” – is also suitable for newly circumcised babies.
PICK YOUR TIME
Any time is good for bath time, provided you’re relaxed and unlikely to be interrupted. A baby is more likely to be alert during a morning bath, while nighttime baths can be a soothing bedtime ritual. Test the waters and see what time baby likes best.
SET IT ALL UP
It’s helpful to get everything ready in advance, while baby is safe and occupied. For a sponge bath, find a warm room with a flat surface. A bathroom or kitchen counter, firm bed or changing table can work well. Lay out a soft towel, blanket or changing pad for baby to rest on. Next, put out a wash cloth, towel, mild baby moisturising soap, mild baby shampoo (if you’ll be washing hair), cotton pads, a clean nappy and a change of clothes. Then fill a sink or shallow basin with a little warm water, checking the temperature with the inside of your wrist or elbow to ensure it’s not too hot. Since a newborn’s skin is so thin, she will feel the heat more acutely than you do. The ideal water temperature is 36°C for newborns and between 37°C and 38°C (body temperature) for babies. Use a bath thermometer to check temperature if you’re unsure.
THE RIGHT H O
Use clean water when bathing your newborn, as chemically treated or dirty water can cause serious rashes or bacterial infections, warns Cape Townbased paediatric dermatologist Dr Carol Hlela. It’s not advisable to wash your newborn in untested groundwater (such as borehole or well-point water) as this can contain high levels of copper, zinc and other minerals that may be toxic in high levels. Groundwater may also be contaminated by E.coli or other harmful bacteria, which can cause illnesses.
READ THE LABELS
Dr Hlela says its crucial to read the labels and know what to use and what not to – stick with products made specifically for babies. “Never use adult products on your baby,” she says. “Antiseptic soaps and scented soaps also have the potential to damage baby skin that is still developing and not yet fully functional.” Stay away from fragrances, parabens, dyes and products with a harsh detergent called sodium lauryl sulfate, she adds.
Bath time is prime technology-free bonding time, according to a 2015 study by child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, who found that the 20 minutes spent bathing babies is beneficial to brain development and parental bonding. So relax, and enjoy this precious time. According to Elgonda Bekker, president of the Society of Midwives of South Africa, a consortium of healthcare professionals is currently working to draft evidence-based infant skincare and bathing guidelines for South Africa. The findings will be published later in 2018, she says, in collaboration with the Neonatal Nurses Association of South Africa, the Nurse Educators Association, and paediatric dermatologists.
Baby Dove Rich Moisture Bar 75g R12.99; Baby Dove Rich Moisture Shampoo 400ml R69.99; Baby Dove Rich Moisture Head to Toe Wash 400ml R64.99; Baby Dove Sensitive Head to Toe Wash 400ml R64.99