Bathe Your Baby Spotless (Like They Do in the NICU!)

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There are a lot of regulations in the NICU, all in the interest of safety for your child. The best ones are down to the letter on what can and cannot be done around the children– for example, in our NICU, nurses weren’t even allowed to wear nail polish for the possibility of bacteria being harbored underneath a flake. When one enters the NICU there is an attendant that asks you to wash your hands and will make sure you do it (they are not shy about babies’ safety!).

So, not surprisingly, bathing is a very delicate matter as well. They scrub your baby spotless, and you can too!

READ OVER THIS GUIDE COMPLETELY BEFORE WASHING BABY. Ideally you will have read this before your kiddo is even born, because there are a few things here I had never heard of when I first had Emm. The NICU was a very thorough and helpful guide for me, and I hope that a few of the things I share from them can be helpful to you too!

To bathe your baby spotless like in the NICU, you need to start with some essential items beforehand.

#1: Two Washcloths 

First, you will need two washcloths. These washcloths are very important, as one serves to keep your child warm and the other to clean them well. When baby is in the bath you will place both washcloths into the water to warm them. Then, drape one across your little one’s chest. The water level should be low so that this portion of your kiddo would have been uncovered. The second washcloth will be used to wipe the corners of baby’s eyes, which is the first place you start when cleaning your little one.

#2: Soap

You will also need soap. In the NICU they used Johnson & Johnson, however when I got home I wanted something a little more gentle for my baby. I started using Dove’s sensitive skin line and Emm’s acne disappeared! After you have cleaned the corners of your baby’s eyes and face with the washcloth, you will use the soap to wash their hair and body.

#3: Dry Towel

Dry towel- the dry part is important. Don’t get a cold towel that’s already been used twice this week. I like to use baby towels because they help so much with traction when holding on to a slippery and freshly washed baby, plus they’re light so if your little one is chunky you can avoid unnecessary water weight tagging around for long.

#4: Wash Basin

Some people use sinks, others a tub with very little water. In the NICU they used a little pink tub that looked exactly like a mixing bowl I had at home, save with a slope on one side. The water was filled just enough to soak your hand in it, but no more.

#5: Post-Bath Outfit & Creams

When I get ready for Emm’s baths, I leave a blanket on the floor (I find it easier and safer to hold onto her to dry her on the floor), and then on top of that I place a diaper, lotions, diaper cream or spray, and Emm’s next outfit. If it’s a bedtime bath, I make sure that the outfit I get her is cozy for sleeping in and easily accessible for diaper changes in the night. This little step makes things a lot less complicated after bathing baby.

Bathe That Baby Spotless Like They Do In the NICU
pavelkraus / Pixabay

The Process

Note: Make sure your baby is warm before you bathe them. In the NICU, if a baby has been even a little chilly they wait until it has been warmed up to give it a bath, because the baby will get even colder after the bath.

Step One: Fill the Basin with Warm Water

Warm is extremely important. You want the temperature to be comfortable for your elbow, but not cold at all. Fill your basin with warm water up to the level of your submerged hand or most the way up babies bum. This level will vary based on the basin, but with the ones I use I can safely put water up to Emm’s armpits, so I do that to help keep her warm. This one is amazing!

Step Two: Prepare Baby

Prepare for getting baby warmed and dressed immediately after the bath. Doing this quickly is key, because you don’t want your baby to get cold before you put them in the bath. Just make sure to be safe!

Step Three: Baby in Tub

Place your baby in the tub. If you use this tub they will have more water around them, but make sure that if your child were to turn their head quickly that they would not be able to reach the water with their nose or lips.

Comfort them for a moment if they fuss, and wet one of the washcloths and drape it over their chest. This will help calm them down because their body temperature will be about the same thoroughout- no shockingly cold spots!

Step Four: Bathe Your Kiddo

Wet the second washcloth and wipe first your baby’s eyes, then the rest of their face WITHOUT SOAP. Some people use soap on their baby’s faces and it’s unnecessary and potentially painful for your kiddo. In the NICU they said not to use soap because the abrasion of the washcloth is plenty to get your kiddo spotless. Don’t add things where they’re unnecessary!

Then wet and wash your kiddos’ hair and neck. Bathing a baby should always go top down and then bum. As you bathe the rest of their body, make sure to thoroughly wet and wipe areas with a lot of friction and not much airflow like armpits, chubby folds, and kneepits. You should also scrub gently with your fingers in between their fingers and toes. These areas collect a lot of grime and will get infected if you don’t clean them frequently!

Then clean their bum. As with changing diapers, you should ALWAYS WIPE DOWN especially on little girls. Don’t rub anything upwards, but get some soap lathered up and scrub. Be gentle! On little girls you also need to make sure to get things clean in the labia. Diaper rash cream can be sticky and collect gunk in there, causing irritation and even infection.

Step Five: Dry Baby

Once baby is all clean, drain a little bit of the water (if you need to) in order to access their armpits. Dry their armpits a little bit with the towel, and then drape the towel over your chest. I like to tuck the top part of it under one of the straps of my bra so it doesn’t fall when I bend over, but if you’ve got ninja skills you can just drape it.Now reach down, hold your baby under the armpits around the ribs with one hand and the other hand under their head, and place them against your chest with the towel. Now go get them dressed so they don’t get too cold!

Step Six: Dress Baby

Before you put any lotions and creams on your kiddo, put their onesie on. Don’t worry about their pants yet, but you want to put their onesie on before you put lotions on them because the lotion causes a lot of resistance (think putting tights on freshly lotioned legs). Putting the onesie on first is also important to help them stay warm.

When you’re ready to lotion baby, just put the lotion on their chest from underneath their onesie. Make sure to get lotion everywhere on your kiddo!

#Bonustip: Put Desitin cream in the folds of your baby’s chubbers and under their neck after you’ve finished lotioning them. It will prevent sores and irritation!

Step Seven: Relax

Finally, take a deep breath and cuddle your baby. Chances are they were pretty riled up from the bathing experience! Hold them tight to your chest and rub them gently to help them calm down.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel M

Bathe Your Baby Spotless Like They Do In the NICU

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