Babies and tots love bath time… or do they? From getting the temperature right, to handling pouts, we share our top tips for a fun, safe time in the tub.
Taking the temperature
Happy bath times start with a just-right bath. Temperature-wise, you’re aiming for body temperature (35-37°C) rather than actively warm. Don’t use your elbow to test the water like Grandma used to, as it’s actually not that sensitive. Instead use a bath thermometer or your hand. Make sure you mix the water well, as pockets of heat can last longer than you think.
Call me shallow
Toddlers and babies don’t need a deep bath. Up to their waist is fine, which is only a few inches. In winter, make sure the room temperature’s comfortable, otherwise they’ll get goosebumps. If it’s too deep, your little one might feel anxious, and the extra buoyancy will make them feel less steady.
Steady does it
Tots aren’t great at sitting still, and bath time’s no exception. Make sure you have a bath mat or bath stickers to stop them slipping about. Give them plenty of praise when they sit nicely and, while a bit of wriggling is all part of the fun, discourage jumping or funky dance moves (however cute). And take care to keep the bathroom floor dry, so getting in and out is also slip-free.
Skip the suds?
For little ones, bubbles are always exciting. You can make a pretend Santa beard, or search for hidden pirate treasure underneath. But if you’re washing hair, you might want to skip it. Some bubble baths can make toddlers’ eyes sting, so either have a bath without, or rinse their hair with fresh, non-bubble water (make sure you check the temperature).
Small children never miss a chance to play. It’s not just for fun – playing is their way of exploring the world. From that perspective, it’s no wonder toddlers find water so fascinating – it’s a baby science lesson! A mix of toys that float, sink, scoop, soak or squirt will help make bath time extra fun. You don’t need anything special – clean, empty plastic bottles make great bath toys.
More fun ideas for the bath
- Coloured cups and bowls
- Singing bath time songs
- Bath crayons
- It’s always more fun bathing with a sibling
- Rubber ducks
- Foam letters and numbers to stick on
- the wall
- Add a few (just a few) ice cubes and watch them melt
- Colour the water with a few drops of natural food dye
- Cleaning the bath with sponges
- Fishing with toy nets
Not all toddlers and babies love their bath, at least not all the time. If your little one’s going through a phase of bath time grumps, here are some ideas to help them find the fun again.
Little ones aren’t always logical, but sometimes there’s a simple reason why they might not be enjoying their bath at the moment. Soap in the eyes, or a sudden slip, can be alarming experiences that live in their imaginations for a long time. If you can think of something that might have put them off their bath, showing them you’ve fixed it, and explaining why (even pre-verbal tots understand a lot) can really help.
Easy fixes for anxious bathers
- Soap in the eyes – A soap visor or swimming goggles should do the trick
- Temperature surprise – Let your toddler check the water themselves before you put them in
- Slipping and sliding – Try using appealing, non-slip bath stickers
- Boisterous sibling – Do separate baths for a few days
- Feeling cold – Adjust the room temperature so it’s comfortable
If you don’t know the reason (or even if you do), your child might need some help feeling happy about their bath again. Let them choose a special bath toy – like a rubber duck – that’s just for bath time. Keep bath times short at first, and give them plenty of praise when they get back in the water. Remember, if you or your child has had a rough day, skipping bathtime once in a while is not the end of the world.
This depends on your child’s age and how they’re feeling. If your child’s not enjoying bath time, keep it to a quick dip and try again tomorrow. If they’re happy, 5 to 10 minutes is ideal for babies, a bit longer for toddlers – as long as you’re with them all the time, and they’re not getting too pruny!
Trouble getting them out? Make sure they’ve got something fun to look forward to. A promise of a favourite story is usually enough to get most water babies out and into their pyjamas.
How often should you bathe your child? Should you use soap? What about moisturiser? The advice from the Royal College of Midwives is to bathe babies 2–3 times a week until they start crawling (at which point they’ll need a bath more often). If your baby or child has atopic eczema, a daily bath with emollients (medical moisturisers) is often a good idea, and you should avoid soaps.
Even if your child has normal skin, it’s a good idea to look out for PH neutral soaps, which tend to be gentler, and babies are fine with plain water. Avoid products with aqueous cream or sodium laureth sulphate, which can damage skin’s protective layers – even in adults. If you like to add moisturiser to your child’s routine, there are lots of lovely natural products out there, but avoid anything with olive oil (recent research shows that oleic acid, one of its main components, can irritate), and any nut-based oils, in case your baby’s allergic.
Whatever kind of day you’ve both had, there’s something about seeing your little one clean and snug in their sleepsuit or pyjamas that makes parenting new all over again.
To make sure they keep that cosy feeling through the night, remember to check regularly to see if the nappy they’re wearing is still the right size. If your child’s getting a nappy rash at night, damp patches during the day – or a red mark across their tummy, it’s a sign they need to go up a size. If your tot is slimmer than average, and their nappy dangles between their legs a lot, you might need to go down a size.
Don’t be shy of trying different nappy brands, as different shapes and absorbencies suit different babies.