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Baby baths, hair washing and nail trimming

Bathtime, hair washing and nail trimming are just some of the skills new parents will learn alongside nappy changing and other practical issues.

Baby maintenance may seem daunting at first, but with good preparation and some expert tips, you'll soon get the hang of it.

Baby baths

Until your baby's umbilical cord falls off, which usually happens after the first week, hold off on 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:

  • 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.
  • Gently wash your baby's face with a lukewarm, wet flannel. But don't use soap.
  • Add soap to the wet cloth to wash your baby's body. Wash the nappy area last.
  • Rinse your baby off with water and pat your baby dry.
  • Cup your hand under warm water and gently pour it over your baby's head to wet your baby's hair.
  • 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 is fine, unless your baby is particularly messy.

Whether you bathe your baby in a baby bath, the sink or the bath 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 bathtime is 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 bath. Many seats can easily tip over. If you need to leave the room, wrap your baby in a towel and take your baby with you.

Here are tips for giving your baby a bath:

  1. Put the flannel, 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 bath. Also, lay out your baby's nappy and clothes where you can easily reach them after the bath.
  2. Fill the bath with two to three 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 49 Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) so that you can't accidentally scald your baby.
  3. Wash your baby's face gently with a wet flannel. Use a wet cotton ball or flannel (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 crust out of your baby's nose and eyes.
  4. Soap the flannel (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 nappy area last.
  5. Fill a cup with water to wet your baby's hair. Put a small amount of baby shampoo on your baby's head. Rub in a gentle circular motion. Keep your baby's head tilted back so the shampoo doesn't run into baby's 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 your baby's bottom with one hand and your baby's 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 your baby dry.
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