When Hollywood star couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis spoke about bathing their kids only when “you can see the dirt on them” on Dax Shepard’s ‘Armchair Expert’ podcast, they unwittingly sparked a heated global debate.
Most people were rankled at the prospect of their dirty tiny tots; but doctors began to speak up, seemingly corroborating Kunis’ stance.
Nonprofit American academic medical center Mayo Clinic says: “There's no need to give your newborn a bath every day. Three times a week might be enough until your baby becomes more mobile. Bathing your baby too much can dry out his or her skin.”
A bath two or three times a week is enough to keep your baby clean.
Dr Waleed Dandan with Specialist Paediatrics at Prime Hospital, says: “Newborns and infants do not need to bathe every day since they seldom sweat enough in the first year of a baby's life. A bath two or three times a week is enough to keep your baby clean. Bathing too much may cause skin problems such as eczema or skin rashes.
In a paper published on Researchreview.co.nz titled ‘Evidence-based guidelines for infant bathing’, by Dr Karen New, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital and the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Queensland, she points out that the skin contains three separate layers. New writes: “The uppermost layer is the stratum corneum. This provides the important barrier function of the skin and has 10-20 layers in adults and full-term newborns. However, the stratum corneum is not fully mature during the first year of life and is approximately 30 per cent thinner than that of adult skin, leading to a higher risk of trans-epidermal water loss and microbial infection. Directly under the stratum corneum is the basal layer of the epidermis. This is approximately 20 per cent thinner in newborns compared to adults. Next is the dermis, which is also thinner and underdeveloped in newborns compared to adults.”
“The first bath should be given only once the infant has achieved cardiorespiratory and thermal stability,” she adds. “The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses guidelines recommend that the first bath occurs between 6 and 24 hours after birth.”
Cold stress can increase the infant’s metabolic rate resulting in increased use of glucose and oxygen which may lead to hypoglycaemia and hypoxaemia.
Practices may vary across the globe, but what remains is an urging by health professionals to maintain a consistent, warm temperature around newborns. “Cold stress can increase the infant’s metabolic rate resulting in increased use of glucose and oxygen which may lead to hypoglycaemia and hypoxaemia,” explains the study. “Bathing too early may also unnecessarily interrupt breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.”
In India, the first few bath times for an infant come with warm oil massages and a rub of chickpea flour, turmeric powder and milk.
In Latvia on the other hand, a century-old sauna ritual called Latvian pirtīža was carried out on the baby’s eighth day in the world; the baby was bathed in warm water with herbs before being massaged using breast milk to coax out dark grey bristles that produced vernix – a protective layer - inside the mum’s womb. After the ritual babies are thought to be calmer and more content.
So when should I start bathing my child?
Dr Dandan recommends bathing a child two to three times a week until the age of seven, post which bathing him/her once or twice a day. When it's bath time, he recommends the following:
- Water temperature should be around 37-38C (96-100 degrees Fahrenheit). Always check the water temperature with your hand before bathing your baby; it should neither be too hot nor too cold.
- The child must be kept warm, as soon as he or she is undressed, he must be placed in the water immediately so that he does not get cold.
- Soap should be used in moderation as it can dry the skin of the child.
- The baby's hair should be washed two or three times a week using a mild shampoo or body wash.
- While bathing frequently is not necessary, it is important to make sure that certain areas of your baby’s body remain clean. As babies tend to drool a lot, always wipe down their faces. You should also be sure to clean your baby’s genital areas frequently. The UK’s National Health Service calls for a method called ‘topping and tailing’.
- Don’t bathe your baby when he/she is hungry or directly after a feed.
- Never leave a child alone in the bath. Children can drown in a few seconds even in very shallow water.
A step-by-step guide to bathing your baby:
UK's NHS offers a guide to bath time. On its website, it suggests the following:
- Hold your baby on your knee or lay them on a changing mat. Take off all their clothes, apart from their vest and nappy, and wrap them in a towel.
- Dip the cotton wool in the water (make sure it doesn't get too wet) and wipe gently around your baby's eyes from the nose outward, using a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye. This is so that you don't transfer any stickiness or infection from one eye to another.
- Use a fresh piece of cotton wool to clean around your baby's ears, but not inside them. Never use cotton buds to clean inside your baby's ears. Wash the rest of your baby's face, neck and hands in the same way and dry them gently with the towel.
- Take off the nappy and wash your baby's bottom and genital area with fresh cotton wool and warm water. Dry very carefully, including between the skin folds, and put on a clean nappy.
- It will help your baby to relax if you keep talking while you wash them. The more they hear your voice, the more they'll get used to listening to you and start to understand what you're saying.
The Hollywood couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis have two children, Wyatt, 6, and Dimitri, 4, and what they said about bathing – or rather not bathing – them has acted as a catalyst for conversation. But are they wrong about bath time? Not so much.
- Mothers – don’t be surprised if your baby wants to breastfeed at this time. It is the natural result of being close to your breast. In fact, if your baby still fusses upon entering the water in your arms, relax them by putting them to your breast first.
- Slowly ease your way into the tub. Then gradually lower your baby into the water as they continue to suck. This is a special way to enjoy both mothering and bathing your baby. As your baby gets older, bath toys such as the traditional rubber ducky may entice the reluctant bather.
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