All babies need warmth, love, and responsiveness. With this in mind, each baby is unique, so however you decide to bathe your baby, give her what she needs to feel comfortable in the water.
Try bathing with your infant from time to time. This is called “co-bathing.” Skin-to–skin touch boosts oxytocin in the brain, it’s a lovely way to bond, and it may be a nice opportunity to show your baby with your full contact that the bath is a safe, soothing environment.
Some of my suggestions below are better suited for baby tubs, while others assume you are in the tub with your baby. Do what’s comfortable for you and your child.
This post covers:
- Why water on the face is essential for safety
- Infant Bathing Techniques: developmentally appropriate methods and techniques we tried with Molly to introduce water onto baby’s face
- Molly’s bath stories
This post is part of my Infant Bathing Techniques series. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Infant Bathing Techniques series. The goal of Pool Mom is to inspire families to get comfortable with the water, and to set kids up for success via bath time. Guess what? Swimmers who are truly comfortable in the water get their faces wet. There’s no getting around it. “Part 3: Put Water on Baby’s Face” includes how we helped Molly adjust to the feeling of water on her face in her infancy.
Between 1 and 3 months: Introduce Water on the Face
As Molly grew from newborn to infant, I gradually introduced gentle sensory experiences in the water, including the feeling of water on her face. Too many swim students have come through my swimming classes who cannot put their faces in the water, and it’s a problem.
I have adult friends who only swim head-high and cannot physically put their heads underwater without severe tension. And while I’d agree that swimming with your head above water is better than not swimming at all, the goal of this blog is to get babies comfortable… it leads to safer swimmers.
Why is swimming with your face above the water a safety concern? Head-high swimming burns through a novice swimmer’s energy supply. An efficient swimmer conserves energy, essential for survival in times of fatigue or when a swimmer may have swum out too far.
A baby or toddler who is comfortable with water on her face is better equipped to handle the shock when she inevitably loses her footing while playing in shallow water. Shallow water situations are just as dangerous for toddlers, if not more-so, than deep water:
- Caregivers’ “defenses” are lower in water where children can stand
- Babies and toddlers might look like they are playing, having most of their heads above water except their noses or mouths
- Slipping underwater is usually noiseless
Responsible parents closely attend to swimming children and are ready to assist them at any moment, staying within arms reach of inexperienced swimmers.
Introducing water on baby’s face is an infant bathing technique that can help prevent or reduce fear of the water, and opens more opportunities for children to advance their playful explorations of the water.
Swimmers who are comfortable with water on their faces make better progress than their counterparts. Learning to swim with your face in the water is essential for safety and confidence. Start when babies are still amenable infants.
For babies 1- to 3-months old:
- Tell baby what you will do each step of the way. Hearing your voice is calming and your words will contribute to language development!
- Use very minimal amounts of water, especially the first many times.
- Pour small amounts of water: on the crown of her head and down her back. Molly loved hearing and feeling, “Let’s pour it on your arm. Let’s pour it on your other arm.” Name body parts as you rinse. Use proper anatomical terms.
- Wipe her face with water (away from her eyes, nose, and mouth.) Later, try letting water trickle over her eyes, cheeks, and on the bridge of her nose. (Molly blinked it away. Sometimes, she also “startled.”)
- Blow a puff of air into your baby’s face to trigger the reflex to hold her breath. I used this tool while teaching parent / tot swim lessons. (If you’re curious about “the gasp”, read more about the mammalian diving reflex in babies on Popular Science’s website.) Later, try it right before taking her under the shower spray.
- Shower the back of her head. Say, “here we go,” take her under the shower for a second. Come right back out and say, “all done.” Later, try letting the water run over her face (while keeping her upright and held close to your body.) Also try standing under the shower for a couple seconds, gradually prolonging the time.
If you want more, here’s the exact Molly Bath rundown at this age:
- Sitting in her baby tub: Our tub is the First Years Newborn to Toddler tub… Great for cleaning baby when you can’t or don’t want to get in the tub.
- On my lap in the tub: I loved snuggling Molly in the water (and on land.) I’d fill the tub to cover my legs and lay her in the cradle of my lap lengthwise. Molly’s legs scrunched up to my squishy mama belly, her toes nestling into my tummy. We talked, made eye contact, and sang. She could nurse easily. I’d raise and lower her into the water, while keeping her head and face dry, or shampooing her hair and rinsing it. It was simple to transfer her into a back float by cupping the base of her skull in one hand and guiding her back with the other, letting the water buoy and “drift” her body (while keeping her mouth and nose out.)
- In the shower: We have great traction on the floor of our tub, and we felt comfortable navigating the shower when the two of us were free to support each other. Our number one goal is always to help Molly feel safe, so if we weren’t feeling that way, we took a pass. Two things we approached cautiously: first, our footing; some showers are so slippery… and second: our baby’s slipperiness in our arms. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised when Molly wasn’t as slick as I thought she’d be. We’d hold her upright on our chests, and she’d go completely still. From here, easy rinsing!
Take it easy, go slow, and give your baby what she needs in order to feel comfortable. Learning takes time. I believe in your baby’s ability to learn this and in your ability to show her how!
If you haven’t yet, follow our Pool Mom Facebook page and share your baby bath stories! We love reading them… our friend Allison shared Baby Hudson’s sink story. Click the link to see her nugget in his favorite Angelcare bath tub.
Safe swimming, everyone!