It seems like babies have pretty strong opinions about bath time. Some, like my youngest, love it and can’t wait to splash in the water. Others, like my oldest, seem to think they’re being dipped in acid and scream whenever the water starts. When this happens, getting clean quickly becomes baby torture, and it leaves moms caught. On one hand, we need to get our babies clean for hygienic reasons. On the other, we don’t find it acceptable to just expect our babies to suck it up and deal with it. That would not be a sensitive way to respond to our babies’ very real emotional distress.
We’re not the only family who has struggled with this. Tiffany wrote to us in our Ask the Mamas section:
I am having trouble with bath time. He just doesn’t want to go in the water. We have tried EVERYTHING so I think. Do you happen to have any pointers? He just cries when we try to bathe him. We try showers and a bath.
Oh, Tiffany. I so feel your pain on this. We went through the same thing with Gabi. Thankfully, with Katie, we had the advantage of hindsight from going through it the first time.
Here are the things we used with both girls to get them excited about the bath. Depending on your child’s age, some of these might work better than others.
- Ditch the baby bathtub. For some reason, both of my girls hated the baby bathtub. I think they felt afraid and insecure about being separated from us and stuck in this hard plastic thing with tepid water. Once you’ve gotten rid of the tub, it’s time to move on to step 2.
- Get in the bath with your baby. This may sound insane and weird at first if you aren’t accustomed to the family bath. Much like the family bed, though, joining your baby in the tub can help them to feel more secure and better able to relax. They can hold tight to mama or papa and experience the water on their own terms. There’s no separation between baby and parent and they can hold tight if they need or explore as they see fit.
- Nurse in the tub. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, nurse your baby! If you’re in the tub anyway, chances are your baby will attempt to latch on at some point. Nursing on its own can be incredibly comforting and calming for a nervous baby, but nursing skin-to-skin in the warm water of the tub mimics the post-birth environment and can bring an incredible amount of peace and bonding to a baby who is feeling afraid of the water. Nursing in the tub is also a trick you can use if baby is having a hard time with nursing and wanting to come to breast, so it’s a bonus for bath time and breastfeeding overall!
- Use lots of bubbles and toys. Distraction can be key with water sometimes. If you can start to assiciate bathtime with play time, you can make great strides in convincing your baby that the water is A-Okay. With Katie, I got in the tub first and played on my own for a while. I involved her from the edge and allowed her to stand outside the tub and play from the outside. When she grew comfortable with that, I brought her into the tub with me.
- Let them “swim” in the tub. With Gabi, we dressed her in a bathing suit a few times. That added sense of play and pretend helped her to forget that she didn’t like the bath.
- Let them practice bathing a baby doll. Kids can work out a lot of anxiety in play. Letting them have the chance to “play out” their fears can go a long way toward helping them feel safer in the water. Many thanks to my mother-in-law for this idea when we were struggling with Gabi!
- Let them control where the soap goes. If your child is older, let them take control of the situation and soap themselves. This can add to their comfort level by giving them power over their own bodies. Sure they might not get perfectly clean every time, but that’s okay. By letting them learn to wash themselves, they’re building valuable self-confidence and self-reliance.
Do you have any bathtime tips for Tiffany?