Bathing Your Baby

• When it's time to wash the diaper area, remove her diaper and sponge off the skin on her belly and bottom. Usually babies' genitals need only gentle cleansing. For little girls, wash from the front to the back. Don't be concerned if you see a white discharge or vaginal bleeding. These are both normal for newborn girls, and the discharge does not need to be wiped completely away. Leave whatever does not come off with one gentle pass. If you do have a son, do not retract or pull back the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis! Do not wash the head of a circumcised penis before it is healed.

• Before putting on a clean diaper, gently raise your daughter's umbilical stump and clean around the bottom of the stump with an alcohol swab.

• Dress your fresh, clean, and oh-so-cuddly baby.

Some babies love bath time, though that is unusual at this age. Most babies are a bit frightened by the experience of having their clothes taken off and being exposed to the air. If he falls into this category, you can comfort him by talking or singing to him during the bath. Your soothing voice will remind him that he is safe.

If she loves her bath, feel free to make it part of your daily routine. If she doesn't love it, it isn't necessary to bathe her daily. As long as you are changing her diaper regularly and cleaning her diaper area after poops (I don't recommend using prepared wipes that contain alcohol, soap, or perfumes), and spot cleaning after spit-ups, she shouldn't need to be bathed more often than every three or four days. Longer is okay for some babies -- if she starts to smell you will know it's time for a bath!

If your baby's skin is drying out too much you will want to cut back on the frequency of baths and apply an alcohol-free, unscented baby lotion daily -- and especially after each bath. After his umbilical stump falls off and his belly button is dry, you will be ready to give him a tub bath. By that time you will feel like a pro, and you will be able to adapt the ideas I've already outlined to the tub.

Essential Facts for Bath-time

• Never, never leave your baby alone in a bath! Not even long enough to answer the phone or turn off the stove. If you remember that you left the stove on in the middle of bath time, take Emily out of the bath, wrap her in a towel, and take her with you into the kitchen to turn off the stove. On your way back to the bath, grab a dry towel to use when her bath is complete.

• You only need to use a couple of inches of water in the tub, and make sure the water is warm -- not hot. Babies' skin is very sensitive to heat. If you are unsure about a safe temperature, you can buy an inexpensive bath thermometer at a local baby store or drug store. These simple devices change color to indicate safe and unsafe heat levels. (Note: If you haven't already done so, you need to turn down your hot water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.)

• Use a tub that is the right size for your baby. Most baby tubs you purchase come with an insert for young babies. This makes it much easier for you to keep your child's head out of the water.

• Gentle soaps really are better for baby's skin during the first year or so. (Note: Ivory is not a gentle soap. Try an unscented baby soap or Dove, Basis, or Neutrogena.) Use soap sparingly and avoid scrubbing.

• Don't use adult shampoo on your baby. The no-tears advertisements for baby shampoos are for real.

• Make bath time fun. Use age-appropriate toys to engage Emily in the whole experience. At first this might be something as simple as giving her a clean washcloth to suck on during the bath. Later, plastic cups and bowls make excellent pouring toys.

Right now your little Emily is so tiny and fragile. When you look at her, it's hard to picture that Cupie Doll shampoo-do. When I was a child, I remember hearing adults talk about how "having kids makes time fly." Well, I'm an adult now, and I have pictures of my kids with Cupie Doll shampoo-dos. Time does fly; it won't be long before you have a picture of your Emily, in the bath, in that same time-honored pose.