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Baby Maintenance: Baths, Nails, and Hair

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Unfortunately for new parents, babies don't come with instruction manuals. So when it comes to even the simplest tasks, like baths and nail trimming, some parents feel confused.

If you're unsure about the baby grooming basics, here's a handy guide to help make hygiene as easy as loving your baby.

Taking Care of Baby: Baby Baths

Until your baby's umbilical cord falls off, which usually happens after the first week, don't give any baths. Instead, give your baby a sponge wash, or ‘top and tail’. Circumcised boys should not be bathed until the penis has totally healed. Here's how:

  1. Lay your baby on a towel. If it is cold, you can take off one item of clothing at a time while you wash your baby.
  2. Gently wash your baby's face with a lukewarm, wet washcloth. Don't use soap.
  3. Add soap to the wet cloth to wash your baby's body. Wash the diaper area last.
  4. Rinse your baby off with water and pat your baby dry.
  5. Cup your hand under warm water and gently pour it over your baby's head to wet your baby's hair.
  6. Put a small amount of baby shampoo on your baby's hair. Gently rub in a circular motion, and then use a plastic cup or your hand to rinse off the shampoo.

Don't use any lotions on your baby, and especially avoid adult products. Some people use  a little bit of rubbing alcohol on the cord or at the site of a circumcision, as recommended by your doctor or midwife, after each bath.

Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, you can graduate to baths. Your baby doesn't need a bath every day -- two to three times a week should be fine.

Whether you bathe baby in a baby bath, the sink, or the bathtub is up to you. But considering that babies are slippery when wet, some parents feel better able to handle giving a bath in the smaller space of a baby bath or the sink.

The most important thing to remember about baths is to never leave your baby unattended. Babies can slide down and quickly become submerged in even a few inches of water. Using a baby bath seat is no assurance that your baby will be safe in the bathtub. Many seats can easily tip over. If you need to leave the room, wrap your baby in a towel and take her with you.

Here are tips for giving your baby a tub bath:

  1. Put the washcloth, soap, and shampoo -- everything you'll need for the bath -- close by. That way, you don't have to leave the room once your baby is in the tub. Also, lay out a diaper and clothes where you can easily reach them after the bath.
  2. Fill the tub with 2 to 3 inches of water. The bath should be warm but not hot. To be sure the water is the right temperature, test it first with your elbow. Make sure your water heater is set to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit so that you can't accidentally scald your baby.
  3. Wash baby's face gently with a wet washcloth. Use a wet cotton ball or washcloth (no soap) to clean your baby's eyes and face. Wipe from the inside of each eye to the outside. Make sure you get any dried secretions out of the nose and eyes.
  4. Soap the washcloth (use a gentle, no-tears baby soap or wash) and clean your baby's body from top to bottom and front to back. Make sure you clean inside all of the little folds. Wash the diaper area last.
  5. Fill a cup with water to wet baby's hair. Put a small amount of baby shampoo on her head. Rub in a gentle circular motion. Keep your baby's head tilted back so the shampoo doesn't run into her eyes.
  6. Fill the cup again with clean water to rinse your baby's hair and body.
  7. When lifting your baby out of the bath, support her bottom with one hand and the head and neck with the other. Make sure you have a firm hold so your baby doesn't slide away.
  8. You don't need to use lotion, but you can apply it after the bath if your baby’s skin is especially dry.
  9. After the bath, wrap your baby in a towel and gently pat her dry.
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