Types of Newborn Bathing

Looking back on Molly’s days as a newborn, I feel like I went through stages of using one type of bath over another, depending on what was most convenient. It’s like I graduated from one to the next as she developed more abilities.

The funny thing is that going into parenthood, I was only aware of one way to bathe a newborn: sponge bathing. What I learned was that there’s so much more to it, and discovered how much I loved getting into the tub with her instead, so I wanted to share this info with other parents of newborns who want to try something a little outside of the box.

As Molly went through her stages of development, she also grew into new phases of independence and strength, growing out of “the old way” of doing things.

There are some different ways to bathe a newborn baby and older infant:

  • Bath in her sling
  • Sitting on me in the bathtub (co-bathing)
  • Sitting in her baby tub
  • Showering with one of us holding her
  • Sitting in her tub in the big bathtub while we shower
  • Sitting freely at our feet in the tub while we shower

My focus today is for parents with newborns (corrected age: 0-3 months-ish), so I’ll stick to explaining the two types of newborn baths other than sponge bathing: submersion bathing. As our baby grew older, we found how capable we all were of trying other ways of bathing on the list, and I bet you will too.

A submersion or submerged bath means your baby is sitting in water up to her shoulders with her head above water or laying on her back with water covering her ears but her face above water.

Bath in a Sling
I adore the sling. Imagine a hammock cradling you as you soak in a hot tub. That’s what a newborn bath sling is like in my imagination: warm, snug, and hopefully, there’s a palm tree and slack key guitar music nearby. The sling makes bathing a baby with a washcloth quick and dirty (er, clean.)

Fill the baby bathtub as full as you can so water covers her body, and it becomes less of a sponge bath, and more of a submersion bath (warmer, more comfortable.)

Sitting on me in the Bathtub
I probably co-bathed with her more often in the beginning than using the sling bath. I’m also “a bath person.” When babies are brand new, if they aren’t sleeping, they’re eating, and breastfeeding in the bathtub was one way I felt like I was actually able to multitask.

It’s important to me to create meaningful moments with my child. A warm bath feels like “back home” in the womb. By doing things that help her feel safe in a new environment, she’s learning a sense of security in the water from the very beginning.

Putting ears underwater early is an important sensory skill to practice for lifelong swimming. The beauty of a co-bath is your baby can lay on your legs or you can support her head with your hand and float her.

If you have concerns about ear infections (like if it runs in the family or baby’s had one right after the other), check with your doctor about submerging ears first. By the end of Molly’s third month, we were well on our way to practicing supported back floats with her ears underwater.

The Research
Click here (and then scroll down) to read my post on the research behind submersion baths… includes a link to the study itself.

What are your thoughts on trying a submersion bath?


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Baby Eczema, Bathing, & Swimming: How to Care for Skin

Hi readers! Today on the blog, Anne Truppe of Eastwise Health shares her insights on treating babies with eczema by getting to eczema’s root cause.

Moms of babies with eczema know that time spent in the water can aggravate the skin, so specialists often recommend limiting or reducing the amount of time spent in baths or the pool. I wanted to get to the bottom of this big question: is it possible to treat eczema so that it doesn’t interfere (as much) with important time spent in the water?

In today’s post, we talk about:

  • Chinese Medicine vs. Western Medicine
  • Causes of eczema, from a TCM perspective
  • Common types of eczema in children
  • Organ function & its relationship to eczema
  • Treating eczema from the inside out
  • What you can use in the bath right now

Before we dive right into the knowledge she drops, I’d like to introduce you to Anne. I fell in love with her Instagram feed and writing style almost immediately as I found myself exclaiming “OMG” with all the learning happening in my brain. I can’t get enough… Before I turn things over to Anne, I asked her to share a bit about herself with us, so in her own words:

“I am passionate about researching and advocating for my clients’ healing through Chinese medicine. I work with clients one-on-one who are interested in taking charge of their health. I’m someone who has dealt with health issues that Western medicine didn’t have answers for, and found healing through Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM. I have a passion for researching and conveying the wisdom of Chinese medicine to the general public because I fully believe that more people would benefit from this knowledge to help them with their own health aggravations that are currently not being solved with medication or mainstream healthcare.”

Without further ado, here’s Anne, a practitioner of TCM:

I’d like to begin by thanking Jenny for asking me to share some thoughts about how Eczema is thought about differently in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Chinese Medicine vs. Western Medicine
Chinese medicine views any skin disorder as the result of an imbalance within the body that affects overall health. It is believed that internal organ* disharmony of the Spleen, Lungs, Stomach, Heart, as well as Blood, combined with external pathogenic factors like wind and heat can cause eczema.

*It’s important to note that in TCM “organs” are not the same as the specific organs as we know them in Western culture. In Chinese medicine “organs” are thought of a combination of systems that perform specific tasks in our bodies.

Causes & Types of Eczema
In Chinese medicine, there are many different types of eczema, and the characteristics of the skin are clues to the imbalance that is happening inside of the body.

For example:

  • Invasion of Wind: Skin disorders are characterized by their sudden appearance and itching

  • Accumulation of Dampness: Skin becomes puffy, bloated, or weepy

  • Too much Heat in the Blood: Skin has a burning sensation, is red, dry, or swollen

Different combinations of these internal pathogens (Wind, Dampness, Heat) produce different forms of eczema. For example, if the skin is weeping and hot, the cause is likely to be Damp-Heat.

In both infants and children, the most common type of eczema is caused by Damp-Heat, a result of having a weak Spleen and Stomach. Now you may be wondering, how is it possible at such a young age to have an imbalance of organ function? And the answer––food! Chinese medicine holds food as a major culprit for internal balances of our bodies.

It can begin with the mom when she eats too many fatty, spicy, fried or sweet foods, or overindulges in fish/seafood. These eating habits will contribute to the mom developing a weak Spleen. This may occur before pregnancy, or it can develop during pregnancy as well as while breastfeeding. When the mom’s Spleen is weak it does not produce enough energy (Qi) and that insufficient energy is passed along to the baby, causing the baby’s Spleen function to become impaired at a young age.

What does this mean for the baby? A weak Spleen cannot take the food and fluids that are consumed and transform them into usable energy. Instead, Dampness and Heat combine (called Damp-Heat), and together they start to accumulate internally. Dampness and Heat are unhealthy forms of energy that are capable of causing disease if not treated properly and balanced out. When there is too much Damp-Heat for the baby’s body to handle, in this case, it eventually gets pushed outward and gets trapped in the skin––causing eczema lesions.

It’s important to note that the child’s eating habits will also play an important role in eczema developing and how quickly.  Certain food can provoke this skin disorder such as:

  1. Too much sugar, starch, or dairy products: Refined carbohydrate foods and dairy are classified in TCM as Dampness generating food in the body, which may present as weepy/oozing or blistering skin.

  2. Hot spicy food: Spicy foods can cause more dryness due to its nature and ability to consume fluids, resulting in too much Heat internally. Fluids are the body’s source of energy that nourishes and moistens the skin.

  3. Too many fatty or greasy foods: Fatty and greasy food inhibits the body to produce enough Spleen and Stomach energy (Qi), resulting in weakened Spleen and Stomach functions.

Remember––the baby started off with a weakened Spleen due to insufficient energy from its mom. If the child consumes too much dairy, sweet or spicy foods, this diet continues to weaken the Spleen further, resulting in more Dampness and Heat, which causes more eczema outbreaks. Yikes, it’s a vicious circle!

This internal development of Wind, Heat, and/or Dampness is one direct way eczema can develop, but it isn’t the only way. Like Western medicine, Chinese medicine also recognizes airborne/respiratory allergies––dust mites, mold, seasonal pollens, animal dander, etc.––as possible causes for eczema and are considered during a treatment consultation.

Treating Eczema from the Inside Out
TCM treats eczema with acupuncture and herbal medicine, but it also believes food therapy is a very important preventative measure for eczema outbreaks and part of the treatment process during its recurrent stages.

What is food therapy? Food therapy is the process of reducing or eliminating some foods while increasing the intake of others.

In order to get the most out of food therapy, it is important to determine which internal pathogen is more predominant: Damp or Heat.  More weepy or oozing lesions indicate more Dampness.  When Heat predominates, there may be more redness, but there will also be more itching and dryness.

Chubbier babies who tend to sweat more tend to be prone to a Damp condition.  Their eczema will likely have more oozing and the lesions will form yellow crusts when they dry.  Thinner or weaker babies have a tendency to develop the drier type of eczema where Heat is more predominant. This type of eczema will have drier lesions with flaky crusts that look like they have white or gray “bran-like” scales on top. The skin might crack or get bloody scabs if scratching is intense. In infants who are dependent on formula or in children who eat a lot of sugary foods, milk and dairy products, fatty or greasy foods, there will also be an underlying weakness of Spleen and Stomach function.

The TCM pattern of Damp-Heat accounts for most cases of acute eczema regardless of the age of the patient. However, the TCM pattern of Heat in the Blood is also a possibility during the childhood phase as well as the adolescent/adult phase. Though some Damp-Heat may also be present, this pattern presents as the drier type of eczema, with more redness and even more intense itching.

Once you have distinguished what type of eczema is presenting itself, it’s time to utilize food therapy.

Anyone suffering from eczema should avoid the foods on the AVOID list below as much as possible. They are irritants and can cause eczema to flare up. They also can continue to weaken the Spleen which can eventually cause Damp-Heat even if they originally were only experiencing Heat.

AVOID or drastically reduce foods that may cause Dampness in the body. Foods such as:

  • Dairy (including milk, cheese, yogurt)

  • Rich meats (e.g. beef, lamb, sausage, etc.)

  • Eggs

  • Bread

  • Fried or greasy foods

  • Saturated fat and sugar

  • Concentrated juices (especially orange & tomato)

  • Tofu and other soy products

  • Chocolate

From the TCM perspective, excess consumption of any or all of these foods weaken the energy of the Spleen and encourage the development of Dampness and Damp-Heat.

Now you may be wondering, what SHOULD my child be eating?

If the type of eczema is aligning with Damp-Heat, these foods that are Cooling or known to relieve Dampness (which are often bitter and/or aromatic foods) can help counteract this type of condition. Examples:

  • Aduki beans

  • Alfalfa

  • Anise

  • Barley

  • Bitter Melon

  • Bok Choy

  • Cabbage

  • Celery

  • Cucumber

  • Daikon radish

  • Grapefruit

  • Green Tea

  • Kiwi

  • Lemon

  • Mung bean

  • Oregano

  • Papaya

  • Parsley

  • Rye

  • Seaweed

  • Summer squash

  • Watermelon

  • Watercress

  • Winter Melon (Wax Gourd)

  • Zucchini

If eczema is aligning more with the drier (Heat) conditions these Cooling foods may prove helpful:

  • Amaranth

  • Banana

  • Barley

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Celery

  • Chrysanthemum

  • Daikon Radish

  • Fig

  • Green Tea

  • Lemon/Lime

  • Mulberry

  • Mung Bean

  • Napa cabbage

  • Peach

  • Pear

  • Peppermint

  • Pomegranate

  • Radish

  • Seaweed (Kelp)

  • Spinach

  • Strawberry

  • Watercress

Remember, food therapy is a very important preventative measure for eczema outbreaks and part of the treatment process during its recurrent stages. It’s not the only option, however. TCM is most effective when using food, herbs, and/or acupuncture in combination. Consider a consultation with a TCM specialist. There are thousands of Chinese herbs used for medicinal purposes and it takes a certain degree of knowledge and experience to prescribe the optimal combination of herbs that would address the conditions of a particular patient.

While it may seem overwhelming or difficult at first, the effort will be worth it. This low impact intervention therapeutically addresses sensitive skin conditions without the side effects associated with Western treatments.

What You Can Add to Baby’s Bath Now
[I’ve added to Anne’s original post after one of our email conversations.]
It’s best not to over-bathe babies as too much washing can cause dehydration of skin and worsen the condition. Some have found relief by adding 2 cups of rolled oats to the bath water to reduce itching. Soaps and lotions containing oats are good, too.

I know you want babies to be in the water as much as possible from a young age, and I think treating eczema from the inside will really help this… if you can control the breakouts from the root source (internally) then there won’t be the breakouts of lesions, which the water effects.

Thank you for sharing this valuable information with us!

If you’re looking to learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine, please refer to Anne’s website www.eastwisehealth.com

Responding to Behaviors Around the Pool

Teaching kids safety around the water includes teaching them to look for and expect adult supervision at pools, beaches, etc. as well as teaching them expected behaviors. None of us is a perfect grown up, but when we collectively model “pool manners,” our children pick up on it.

Lifeguards have a big job keeping an eye on every swimmer. Feel free to kindly remind kids near you of universal pool rules. It keeps the space safer for everybody.

In this post, I talk about:

  • Responsive adult supervision
  • Behavior coaching
  • Public water safety
  • Flexing your “inner playground monitor” muscle
  • Tips for effective communication

Responsive Adult Supervision
Playing in the water is a little different from playing on land because of the inherent risk. Follow your kids, and stay within arms’ reach of non-swimmers. Train your eyes to continue watching them, even when you’re conversing with others.

Interactions between kids might require some coaching of both appropriate pool and social behaviors. Especially when emotions run high, prepare to do a little behavior coaching.

Behavior coaching teaches kids appropriate actions and responses to others in a social setting. There are tons of ways teachers and parents can coach their kids expected behaviors, but for the purpose of today’s post, I’m focusing on “drive-by” moments… when something happens between kids and you only have a few seconds to respond. In these moments, the goal is not to punish or penalize, but to teach children expectations.

Behavior coaching is like any other kind of coaching – noticing something to correct and calling out directions into the action as it rapidly unfolds before you. The more you practice it, the better you become at finding the right words to respond quickly.

Responsive adult supervision is necessary for all scenarios when little ones are swimming, and especially when visiting a busy watering hole.

Boots on the Playground
“Bustling” isn’t usually my first thought when I think of going to the pool… but I added an experience to my repertoire recently. Our visit to a bustling water playground last weekend reminded me of a carnival: loud, boisterous; lightly-supervised children; a hubbub of energy and chaos.

A bathtub-sized bucket randomly dumped gushing water from its perch in the sky onto unsuspecting waders. Including me. Three times in a row to be exact. Kids pointed the nozzles of spouting spigots over the masses. Several times, toddlers stacked up like pancakes as they slid down a pair of short water slides. I thought a survival guide post was pertinent. At the very least, I can review it to prepare myself for the next time (if there is one.)

As I stood knee-deep in water in the middle of a crowd of parents and babies, I noticed two things: my tunnel vision for my kid, and the tunnel vision other parents had for their kids. No appearance of organization. Sure, plenty of adults hovered over their small childrenbut it was hard to see anything coming at you in the foray… like the large 8ish-year-old boy who pummeled his way through our toddlers’ circle of “Ring Around the Rosie.” My inner teacher rustled herself out of hibernation after that.

I felt annoyed at the kid at first. He was at least four times the size of our little babies, he barreled through their circle of innocent fun and busted open their hand holding. He should’ve known better. The toddlers handled it well, but us moms fumed for a hot second.

When my inner teacher popped up on my shoulder, though, she reminded me to presume positive intent. It’s easy to think of strangers as nasty brutes when feeling put out, but when your role in a community is to treat all children respectfully and fairly, it’s good to have a mindset that people generally want to behave appropriately. It’s human nature to want to fit in with societal norms by doing “the right thing.” And without knowing the kid, how can I assume someone has taught him to behave better?

Since all the kids were virtually unharmed, I took a moment to reframe my thoughts with empathy and an open heart toward the big boy. There’s no doubt he had something on his mind. Maybe he forgot his size, or wanted to find his parents or his friend, or needed to get to the restroom. Whatever his motivation, it inhibited his decision-making; his impulse risked the safety of smaller children, which isn’t okay.

Everyone is worthy of safety from harm. This boy was either under the influence of a stressed brain and not capable of making good choices because of it, or he was careless or impulsive. He needed a quick dose of parenting.

Directing an effective behavior coaching message calls for simplicity. I said, “Watch out for the little kids.” It was enough to turn his head to look at us, and in that statement, I implied the appropriate behavior and the expectation that bigger kids can impact smaller ones. He heard me, and that was the primary goal. An apology would have been nice, but that would be expecting a lot from a child we didn’t know.

A secondary effect of speaking up is that it models looking out for one another, especially to those most affected by an intrusion.

Talk the Talk
Does the idea of parenting a stranger’s kids’ behavior make you feel a little uneasy? If so, there’s a way to do it gently and effectively: with your “inner playground monitor” muscle. Be really brief, be calm, and be firm but kind.

Before you say anything, assess the situation. A calm, alert brain learns better than a stressed one, so if any kids are hysterical or steaming mad, your words will be wasted. First attend to anyone expelling bodily fluids like tears or blood, vomit, and bathroom functions (just don’t touch it if it’s wet and not yours); behavior comes second after injuries.

Do a quick scan of each child involved, including the stranger(s.) What’s each kid’s emotional vibe? Are you personally feeling calm? How quickly are events unfolding? Depending on how you answer, some scenarios are better to let go of or let someone else handle, and then you can address what happened with your own child.

Effective Commenting
After you’ve determined a green light, an effective behavior coaching comment in a “drive by” scenario might look and sound like this…

The speaker:

  1. Looks at the child
  2. Uses a calm, even tone
  3. States the desired behavior in the positive (no “don’ts” or “shouldn’ts”)
  4. Keeps statement short (a few well-chosen words is enough)
  5. Respects personal space

“Drive by” behavior coaching is not name calling, power plays, or issuing consequences.

While this post was intended to share what I’ve learned about communicating water safety to kids I don’t know, the effects reach deeper than that. I mentioned the toddler pancake stack at the bottom of the slides, right? “Wait until the person is out of the way.” Basic slide etiquette, in the water or at a dry playground. (Also, “wait” might have been just as effective, if not more.) Behavior coaching helps kids assimilate into their communities by teaching them expected behaviors.

Children who learn to regulate their behavior experience greater success in life, in relationships, and in careers. Historically, children learned appropriate behaviors from their “village.” Our evolution away from the village and into more isolated spaces, though, means many kids miss receiving behavioral instruction or have fewer role models in this department. As social animals, human health and well-being depend on our connections with others and our sense of belonging; expected behaviors are the widely-held norms behind it all.

Let me know if you try “parenting” a kid you don’t know with behavior coaching!

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How to Teach Baby to Swim: Back Floating

In my last post (on kicking), I talked about how to build on baby’s natural knack for certain motions that connect to swimming. Today, I’m talking about back floating, which is another basic swim skill to teach in the bath within your baby’s first year of life (or as soon as possible.)

To teach your baby to swim, you need to know what to look for and hold the belief that playing in the water can be safe as long as parents stay within arm’s reach of baby at all times, focus their attention (putting away phones, etc.), and help her gently experience the water.

Talk About Back Floating
In my last post on kicking, I wrote, “I gave the movement a “name,” talked to her about it pretty much each time she repeated it, and in that way, assigned value to it.” Do the same for back floating, like when she’s lying on her back on the changing table or on the floor. Back floating is a much greater whole-body experience than kicking, though.

When done correctly, back floating is a restful recovery pose in the water. Typically the floater lies on her back, floating at the surface of the water while stretching her arms straight out to the side like an airplane (some bodies float better with arms stretched overhead instead), palms upward. Her mouth and nose will be above water.

Back Floating Baby
Practice back floats with your baby in a full-size bath tub; it’s one of the main reasons I love co-bathing so much. Buoyancy is sensory; getting comfortable in the water requires swimmers to relax enough to feel their buoyancy… one of the sayings I tell my swimmers is, “the water will hold you up.” Then it’s a matter of finding each person’s right shape for floating.

Introduce back floating early, and your baby will quickly get used to the feeling of buoyancy and water in her ears. Both these sensory experiences need to occur regularly over the years anyway as key players in swimming, and become more difficult as bath tubs shrink. 😉 The earlier, the better. As children age, they develop a reflex to sit up when water enters their ears if their bodies haven’t learned it’s harmless.

Hold your infant at the base of her head with one hand. Help her keep her face above water. Place your other hand under her lower back, and “float” her gently back and forth. The water line ought to cover her ears. It’s important to allow her to feel the buoyancy when her mood is relaxed; this might mean dropping your lower hand occasionally, but only if she seems open to it.

With toddlers, tubs usually aren’t wide enough for outstretched arms ; even so, continue “back floating” with your support simply to have water enter her ears.

In the pool, stand behind your child and support her head with one hand and lower back or under her chin with your other hand. This should be a gentle touch, not a grip.

Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has tubes or what is safe in the case of an ear infection.

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How to Teach Your Baby to Swim: Kicking

When I decided to raise my baby to love the water without formal swim lessons, I wanted to see what I could teach her to do at home in the bath using what I know as a swim instructor. The good news is that it’s going well, and I’m excited to share with other parents who are ready to do it, too!

To teach your baby to swim, you need to know what to look for AND have faith that playing in the water can be safe as long as you are a responsible parent: stay within arm’s reach of your baby in the water at all times and believe in yourself to help her gently experience the water in a way that will help her grow into a confident swimmer.

If you are ready to help your baby feel comfortable in the water, I’m happy to lend a hand.

What does a strong swimmer do? How does someone behave when they feel comfortable in the water? Think about the parts of the whole, and break them into bite-size pieces.

In today’s post, I’m focusing on kicking. I write about:

  • Three types of kicking I teach to beginning swimmers
  • Why they’re necessary for self-rescue
  • Which kick to focus on with your little one

Talk About Kicking
Once our newborn baby began moving in ways that emulated the parts of swimming (ie, kicking her feet), I gave the movement a “name,” talked to her about it pretty much each time she repeated it, and in that way, assigned value to it.

Attune to skills you know they need, and watch for them; labeling desirable actions attaches significance to them, making it meaningful. Communication not only supports language but also skill development.

It didn’t matter if she kicked on her back on the changing table, kicked on her tummy during tummy time, or splashed her feet in the bath tub. She and I have been talking about kicking for a loooong time now, and when I began teaching her about swimming in a pool, kicking was a concept she already understood. We could focus on making her kick work for her.

Kicking helps propel swimmers forward through the water in any direction: up or down, side to side, and horizontally.

Three Types of Kicks
The most common style of kick is probably the easiest to learn: the flutter kick, “a brisk, alternating, up-and-down movement of the legs.” Via Swimmers use a flutter kick while prone on their fronts in crawl stroke and backs in backstroke.

For the flutter kick to power the swimmer, the top of the foot needs to push the water down. Too often, older kids push with the bottoms of their feet, as if “walking.” Many animals can actually swim the same way they walk; humans cannot. Sorry if this is disappointing news.

Another challenge I see is when kids bend their knees so much, they practically kick their themselves in the tush. For babies and toddlers, though, focus on “playing kick”: see what size splashes you can make with different sized flutter kicks. We want your little one to get to know flutter kicking really well.

The second kick I want kids to learn is frog kick, a symmetrical movement which draws the feet together toward “the body with the knees bent… and then kicked outward before being brought together again, all in one continuous movement,” thrusting the swimmer forward. Via Swimmers frog kick on their fronts, backs, and while treading water.

Finally, the scissor kick is a kick “in which the legs make a sharp snapping movement like the blades of a pair of scissors.” Via I think of it as a combination of flutter and frog kicks. It’s technically used for sidestroke swimming. Lots of children will inadvertently switch to a scissor kick, though, during other strokes because it feels very natural.

When young swimmers become fatigued in deep water, one way I teach them to rest and recover is by back floating. Then, they can gently kick to a ladder, steps, or the wall. For longer distances, intermediate swimmers learn sidestroke and elementary backstroke, two ways to swim and conserve energy.

Invest in a Good Flutter Kick
If I attempted to teach Molly a frog or sidekick in her first two summers, I don’t remember… the reality is that a flutter kick is pretty easy to teach! Weak kicks won’t move your baby through the water. Neither will an overly vigorous and splashy kick, but in general, most kids tend to need more vigor when they kick. Practice flutter kicking (and “playing kick,” mentioned above.)

One way to help baby get the right idea is to gently hold her feet and kick them up and down for her, while calling, “kick! kick! kick! kick!” Molly thinks I’m hilarious when I do this. I chant it like a drill sergeant in the pool when she tries to swim independently, too.

Make little kicks and big kicks in shallow water, on steps, while holding the wall, and on her tummy and back. It’s a whole-leg movement… and something to do when kids need to burn off a little extra EXTRA energy!

What other swimming goals do you have for your little one? Send me a message or leave a comment below!

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Swimming in Seattle: Insider’s Guide to Kid-Friendly Indoor Swimming Pools

Molly and I agonizingly miss our outdoor swimming days now that summer is officially over and the pool has closed. While sunny fall weather coaxed us outside to play (earth, what a novelty for summer lovin’ mermaids!), I’m getting anxious about two things:

  1. Keeping Molly’s swim skills and love of the water FRESH (and preferably growing.) She played hard all summer to earn these! If you don’t use it, you lose it.
  2. Drearier days ahead + when it gets dark at 4 pm this winter. How will I keep her busy?!
Helping raise water lovers!

In the shortest post of this blog’s LIFE, I share:

  • The most important elements I look for in an indoor pool
  • 3 lists of kid-friendly indoor swimming pools (& the clear favorite)
  • Warm up a cold baby while squeezing a few more minutes out of your swim sesh

When I think of taking babies or toddlers swimming, the 2 most important questions for me are:

  1. Is there a shallow water option for her, and what is it?
  2. How warm is the pool? (I look for ~90 degree water temp.)

Less important, but other factors I’m curious about:

  1. Location… because timing of naps and neither of us love car rides.
  2. What’s in the water? Chlorine or saline. (Chlorine is harsher on our eyes, bodies, and swimsuits. Saline is less irritating – but not chlorine-free – and adds a slight amount of buoyancy.)

A quick Google search directed me to 3 family oriented websites with lists of kid-friendly indoor swimming pools in the Greater Seattle Area: ParentMap, Red Tricycle, and Seattle’s Child. BUT these lists are not created equally. One guide is a clear winner.

9 months old. Babies get cold quickly, and won’t last long in water that’s lower than their body temperature. See my tip for warming up when Lynnwood Pool’s “beach” gets a little chilly.

THANK YOU, ParentMap! For a true guide. Here’s why I love it so:
For including the pools we already love on the list (now I can simply hand this list over to you guys instead of making my own!), for introducing me to several warmer pools I didn’t know about on the Eastside where we currently live, and for making your list visually appealing! Photos, sections on water temperature (!!!), price, and other important pool-specific info. (like what’s in it for our littlest mermaids)… this will be my new go-to guide when planning pool play-dates and surviving winter in the PNW.

Tip: Babies get cold quickly in water that’s lower than their body temperature and it’s harder for them to warm up (as opposed to an active toddler or kid who runs around a lot.) Babies like warm water right about 100 degrees. So, how do I squeeze a few more minutes out of our swim time in pools set to less than 100 degrees?

Prevent chills… hold her close to your chest, and sink into deeper water. Bounce to raise your own body temperature while keeping yourselves low in the water. Throw in a song or chant to make it fun, act like you’re LOVING this (whether or not your are), encourage kicking and arm splashing to get her blood moving, and your baby will probably love the whole sensory experience. As you warm up, your baby will warm up, especially if she gets her body moving vigorously, too. (Be ready for a hungry kid afterward!)

Best Indoor Pools in Seattle, the Eastside, Kitsap, and North and South Sound.
Source: Swimming in Seattle: Insider’s Guide to Kid-Friendly Indoor Swimming Pools

You can follow these links to see the other kid-friendly indoor swimming pool lists on Seattle’s Child and Red Tricycle. Are there any pools you recommend nearby that didn’t make the cut?

As always, I love hearing from you! My greatest joy is knowing this blog makes a difference for you. Happy swimming!

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When Should Babies Start Swimming Lessons?

Some college friends recently gave birth to their first baby (!), a beautiful girl. They follow Molly’s swimming shenanigans on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and asked me for tips about instilling their baby with confidence in the water. Specifically, when should babies enroll in swimming lessons? (In case you haven’t read my post where I describe Molly’s first bath, I started thinking about these exact same questions when Molly was born… hence, the birth of this very blog!)

Thanks to this new family of 3 for motivating this post. It’s just for you, my new and expecting mammas!

Today, I’m sharing the Pool Mom Timeline for babies 0-1.5 years. This includes:

  • Timeline Lite, a summary of each stage for babies and young toddlers
  • Pin-able infographic to help you remember (cuz mom brain is real)
  • My thoughts on when to start infant swimming lessons
  • A rundown of what to expect from your baby in the water at different ages
  • Linked list of books & apps I compiled for you that I mention in this post! They’re of the brain development / parenting variety, for those of you who love learning, too (Mama, Phd.! Here we come!)
8 months: holding the step… & bouncing!

The premise of the Pool Mom blog is to empower you to feel comfortable with the water, and to teach your baby or toddler to love the water. Babies can definitely learn foundational swimming skills and water safety in the bathtub. We all know WHY swimming is an important life skill, so I’m here to peel back the layers for developing these skills.

Swimming should be fun and feel good. The foundational skills babies and toddlers can learn with parent support sets them up for success NOW – makes bath time easier when your kid is willing to rinse her own head – and carries forward to swimming lessons when they are a little older. (To learn more about my swimming background, click here.)

Timeline Lite: Summary of Each Stage
In the early months, lay a sensory foundation for your baby. Clean warm water on her head, face, eyes, and in her ears is safe. Very young babies are typically open to gentle experiences in the water, and will let you know with facial expressions and body language when they begin to feel stress. Crying signals a need for comfort, and doesn’t necessarily indicate they dislike bath time. Your baby might need your help developing stamina for baths.

As babies gain strength and control over their bodies, they learn that the body moves differently in the water, along with cause and effect of their actions.

Finally, early walkers and toddlers benefit from clear and enforced structure and boundaries as they embrace their independence to play and explore movement in shallow water. Routines let kids know when to anticipate things will happen, such as “first we wash your body, then you can play.” (Or vice versa.)

As parents, we’ve found we benefit from flexibility, and allowing our expectations to evolve appropriately as our child grows.

Bath times feel fun and safe with kind and responsive caregivers who talk to their babies about the events of the bath and give constant close supervision.

Starting Infant Swimming Lessons
AKA: When should babies start swimming lessons?

I have a multi-part answer:

  1. It depends on when you want to start
  2. It depends on what programs are available in your area; schools require age minimums depending on their services
  3. In general, babies who are developmentally about 6 months old have the physical abilities to attempt many of the skills instructors teach
  4. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “children are not ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday,” but to teach your baby or toddler to “love the water.” (AAP)

All babies, especially when they’re enrolled in formal lessons, need free playtime in the water to explore and discover; plenty of positive experiences are the key to developing a love for the water.

A few of the points to consider while weighing your options are:

  • Time and money: time commitment & cost of infant swim lessons
  • The style and intensity of the program and instructor
  • Your baby’s stamina… swimming quickly makes babies hungry, tired, and cold

Personally, I prefer to keep our daily schedule simple and streamlined, so adding an extra class to our week – along with packing towels and swim diapers, preparing snacks, laundering towels and drying swim suits, time in the car – didn’t appeal to me when I had an infant. Molly continually progresses through supervised play and guidance in the bathtub anyway; if she didn’t, I’d reevaluate our situation.

Swimming lessons for babies and young toddlers entails consistent supervised time adjusting to sensations in the water and practicing guided positions. Babies can practice these foundational skills in the bathtub.

Devote bath times to getting comfortable in the water. In true comfort with water, one will develop trust, a sense of safety, and a healthy respect for it. I have tremendous faith in the effectiveness of play as a “teacher” and that babies learn in their own time when offered the opportunity to move through the right experiences. In our world, this means the majority of the time in the bath is hers to play while I watch closely, support, and occasionally coach her and keep her safe.

Playing in the bath supports building foundational skills and confidence in the water, both in preparation for swim lessons and as a supplement with infant swimming lessons.

Hopefully the hows and whats and whys are reflected here in my posts on the Pool Mom blog and on Instagram. I want you to have the tools to feel confident and purposeful about baby’s bath time, too!

If you want to know more about formal lessons, there are some great programs for infants these days that offer a variety of structures, from one-on-one instruction to small group to budget-friendly (larger group.) Swimming with your baby and an instructor can be a wonderful bonding experience, whether you’re a working parent who wants to build in an activity to do together, or a mom or dad who wants to build up their own confidence baby-handling in the water with a certified teacher.

Infant swim lessons will not replace the benefits of frequent supervised playtime and guided practice in the bathtub.


Loving that water life

{Side note: swim skills and water safety are life-saving, regardless of where you live or your personal sense of urgency on the matter. The fact that you are here tells me you’re probably feeling the right amount of urgency. 😉 Let me also add that my family lives in the Pacific Northwest where our club swimming pool opens in mid-May and closes mid-September; Molly isn’t at-risk for falling into a someone’s pool on the daily. I can’t say how I’d feel if we lived in a sunnier climate where everyone had backyard pools and year-round heat, but this circumstance influences the tone I take in my writing.

All babies benefit from consistent supervised playtime in the water to develop a foundation for learning to swim. We use our bathtub to facilitate teaching these early skills, and hope you’ll give the ideas on Pool Mom a whirl.}

The Fourth Trimester (Newborn & Infant 0-3 Months)
I read about ‘the fourth trimester’ for the first time in Dr. John Medina’s book, “Brain Rules for Baby.” (Highly recommend!)

Medina writes that humans give birth at about 40 weeks because our babies’ brains, and our babies’ heads, will otherwise grow too large to safely pass through the birth canal. The first 3 months after birth (or baby’s due date) is referred to as the fourth trimester. It’s in this period that we watched as Molly seemed to ‘wake up,’ becoming more alert and engaged.

During this time, Molly loved being reminded of the comforts of “home.” We could soothe her using techniques akin to life in the womb. Swaddling, white noise, feeding on demand, and warmth: all womb-like. Guess what else is womb-like… warm baths!

Molly’s first bath was co-bathing with me in the tub after her belly button healed. A lot of new moms and dads are advised to give gentle, cozy sponge baths; I personally am in favor of warm submersion baths instead (waterline at baby’s chest or shoulders) – see the study on stress levels and first baths – whether in the baby tub or with a parent in the big tub. Click here to read how to give your baby the best first bath.

Keep bath times quick in the beginning. Sometimes less than 5 minutes. We limited swimming pool time to 10 or 15 minutes on the warmest days, cuddled her closely, and waited to submerge her head for the first time until she was four months old (we could have waited even longer.) We introduced simple sensory experiences with the water, pouring small amounts on her scalp and back floating with her ears submerged.

Rollers & Sitters (3 to 9 Months)
Once your baby is strong enough to hold herself up, sit, and roll over, the game is on! Make bath times warm, gentle, sensory playtimes. Pour water so she can see and feel it. This is the window of opportunity to get those babes comfortable laying flat on their tummies and backs (with your hands supporting), and with water in her ears. For more info about water on the face, check out my detailed post here.

A powerful skill to introduce early is back floating with support. The easiest way I found to do this was in the tub with Molly. As you hold your baby’s head and body from below, keep her mouth above water while you let the water cover her ears. If there’s only one thing you practice, make it back floats and keep it up. Back floating is a life-saver.

Another sensory experience necessary for feeling comfortable in the water is the feel of (clean!) water on her face and in her eyes. Soap will sting her eyes; water will make things look blurry but shouldn’t hurt. She might startle and that’s a natural response. You can help this by starting with a soaked washcloth and squeezing it on her head (or pour water from a cup.)

As she becomes strong enough to support herself sitting upright, fill the tub with a few inches of water and let her play and explore at her own pace. Celebrate happily when she dunks her own face (and then soothe her if she’s scared.)

We spent this time in Molly’s babyhood normalizing water as a comfortable place to play. We set our confidence in her abilities high, and she thrived. Molly experienced times that made her cry: unexpected splashes to the face, accidentally putting her face under, tipping over into the water… these “accidents” are crucial experience. In these scenarios, talking to her and helping her back up like I would if she had tripped and fallen on the ground helped me reduce any anxiousness I felt. Responding with empathy, retelling what happened, and naming their emotions helps kids move past moments that might otherwise root deeper and lead to fearfulness.

If you feel panicky when your child goes underwater, notice that. Your emotional energy will affect your child’s feelings, too.

Molly’s first summer landed in this age zone. On hot days, we took Molly into the pool for up to 20 minutes at a time. We cuddled her in the water and once she could sit up on her own, we were glued to the shallow end.

Walkers (around 10+ months)
Prior to this busy phase (which only gets busier, by the way!), I recommend choosing and setting some ground rules. One habit I’m practicing is stating what I want her to do, instead of what I don’t want her to do… for example, “Walk” instead of “Don’t run.”

Another habit I’m practicing is stating expectations right before an event as well as projecting into the future. During bath times, I might say, “It’s time for a bath! We will wash your body, and then you can play.” It also sounds like this: “We move carefully when we stand and sit in the tub.” I talk more about choosing words wisely in my post about setting boundaries in the boat. (Teacher mom much?!)

Snapped a pic of our girl before making her sit!

Molly overflowed with joy for the water at this age. Some days, Molly swam in all three of our options: the tub, the backyard kiddie pool, and our swim club!

Learning new things requires energy; swimming is also tiring physically, and requires constant adult supervision. By laying the groundwork early for Molly to be ultra comfortable in the water, she evolved as a “swimmer” into this age at which we could focus some attention onto consistent reinforcement of appropriate behavior around the pool and tub, as well as practicing life-saving skills. Pre-walkers can’t run off yet like older toddlers can… familiarize your child with expectations and you’ll have words ready when you need them (even the times your kids behave impulsively anyway.)

One of our expectations, for example, is “ask permission before getting in the water” (any water!) No, this rarely happens in actuality, but I make her ask anyway. She needs to learn to look for and anticipate adult supervision and lifeguards. It will take years before she will hold herself accountable, so I want this to be a habit as familiar as sitting in her car seat and wearing a seatbelt.

This age range was happened to hit us at the end of her first summer. We had barely begun self-rescue skills and buoyancy in deeper water before our pool closed for the winter. Then it was a return to back floating in the bathtub.

By Molly’s second summer (16-20 months), she was eager to learn self-rescue techniques; it’s as if it fueled her independence. Some of those skills included grabbing and holding onto the the wall, using her hands to “walk” along the wall, back floating and kicking to the wall, and rolling over to breathe, as well as consistent practice in a life jacket on the boat and in the lake.


Thanks for the Messages!
YOU and your little babies are the driving force for Pool Mom. You are the reason it exists. I love hearing about everything, from your successes big and small to answering questions. We’re so lucky to live in an era of technological communication to spread ideas and find help. I hope bath time with your baby becomes a time to take each other in with delight. Leave your phone outside the door, use the old fashioned camera if you need to take pictures, and have fun with each other!

All the best for growing happy water babies,

Delayed Bathing of Newborn Babies

Delayed bathing is a standard practice in many hospitals, including the one where we delivered. The World Health Organization recommends delaying a newborn’s first bath for at least 24 hours after birth, unless medically or culturally necessary (source.)  A few of the beneficial reasons include immediate skin-to-skin contact, keeping mom and baby together, higher potential for successful breastfeeding, lower risk for hypothermia, and giving baby time to absorb vernix caseosa.

Vernix is the white stuff covering newborns, and it serves many purposes in the womb, during labor in the birth canal, and after birth. Prior common practice had been to wipe or wash the baby completely clean. Nowadays, only meconium and blood may be removed. Delayed bathing after birth preserves vernix on baby’s skin and is desirable for many reasons, including preservation of the calming scent of mama on baby’s hands. Babies use their hands to root for the breast, so the scent may also help their mouths find the nipple. Rubbing vernix into the skin immediately after birth helps moisturize baby’s skin, boost immune function, and is antibacterial and antimicrobial in nature (source.) Mother Nature is pretty rad, if you ask me!

Click here to read my post about giving a newborn baby her first bath.


Infant Bathing Techniques, Part 3: Put Water on Baby’s Face

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.

How To
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!
Infant Bathing Techniques: Water on the Face

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.

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Infant Bathing Techniques, Part 2: Newborn & Infant Bath Safety

Hey guys, this post is the second in a series I’m writing about Infant Bathing Techniques to provide a little guidance in the world of infant bath times. As a new parent, I remember feeling a tad lost about the whole bath time gig with my newborn baby.

A lot of who I became as a parent stemmed from trial and error. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with that for awhile; my expectations for baths were a sudsy Baby Molly in the sink while I smiled over her. Once I let go of my expectations, I made space to allow myself to figure out a bathing routine that felt good for both my baby and me.

This post covers:

  • My experience getting myself into the right mindset
  • The bare necessities for the first baths… cuz keepin’ it simple is the key to easy
  • Infant Bathing Techniques: developmentally appropriate methods and techniques we tried with Molly for safe and comfortable baths
  • Molly’s bath stories: how bathing practice became swimming practice

Releasing Expectations
The reality is that I had no idea where to BEGIN to manifest that sweet image of baby bath time. My newborn baby was floppy and delicate, and I was sleep deprived and confused, not to mention recovering from L A B O R. I’m sure I googled “best way to bathe your newborn baby” 10 times. But I hadn’t written this blog yet, so I couldn’t find what I was looking for. 😉

Giving a baby a bath should be such a simple task, I’d tell myself. Eventually it was… once I got over the hurdle of the first bath. Like other new parenting skill sets I’ve learned (like breastfeeding and sign language), the starting line is tough. I faced a combination of “flood of new info” + “vacuum of not-knowing” and felt overwhelmed a lot. Yes? You’ve been there, too? I decided to change my expectations, and to simply expect I could learn by doing. What expectations do you hold onto that would feel better with a shift?

Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Infant Bathing Techniques series. The goal of the Pool Mom blog, etc. is to get parents and kids comfortable in the water via bath time. “Part 2: Newborn Bath Safety” includes ideas for bathing your newborn baby safely and comfortably for all involved.

By 3+ Weeks: Sponge baths

You need: warm water + soft washcloths + baby soap (if there’s poop)

  • In my arms in the tub: Newborn babies like their mamas’ faces. New mamas might enjoy a warm bath. Put it all together and what do you get? My favorite, most comfortable way to bathe Molly safely while keeping her warm during the bath and afterward. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is called “co-bathing.”
    • Sit upright and next to the faucet, cradling baby in one arm
    • Soak a soft washcloth with warm running water
    • Wipe her body, head to toe; use different washcloths for different parts to avoid the spread of germs
    • Afterward, lay her on a towel in the rocker or hand her to someone else

We didn’t use soap until she was older, unless she’d just made us a “present.” 🙂 Soap can dry out baby’s skin and adds a layer to the maneuver. It’s a one-handed deal. Eventually, we pumped the soap directly onto her head or body. 

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  • In the sink: One time I tried a sink bath where I plugged our bathroom sink, put a soft hand towel down, and filled it with a few inches of warm water. I wouldn’t do this again. There are manufacturers that make a soft flexible bathtub for the sink, though, that probably work well. I didn’t love my towel method. I would love to hear from you if you’ve had success with sink baths! 
  • Baby tub with sling: If you haven’t seen this contraption, it looks like a divine hot tub hammock. I want one for me. So comfy. I would not recommend this for exceptionally bouncy or roll-y babies. The baby tub sits on the floor of your bath tub or shower, or on top of your counter, and the sling stretches across it. Newborns kick back while you do the rest (with 2 hands.) BTW, fill the tub with warm water before baby sits in it; that way she’ll stay warm and happy longer. 😉 You’ll want to check the temperature of the water first, and keep your newborn dry and cozy as long as possible (aka, wet and cold as little as possible.)

This is the second post in a series I wrote about bathing your newborn baby. Read the first post here. Or the next post here.

If you haven’t yet, follow me @jennyleakmiller on Instagram. Tag your little swimmer’s water baby photos with #poolmom so we can join in on the splashy fun!

Learning is gradual, for both of you. Take it easy, go slow, and give your baby what she needs to feel comfortable. I believe in your baby’s ability to learn this and in your ability to show her how. Safe swimming, everyone!

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