Infant Bathing Techniques, Part 1: Newborns & the Best First Bath

Mamas, guess how long I waited to bathe Molly.

Long enough that my mom and husband and friends started giving me flack. Almost 3 weeks.

I wonder, though: how unusual is that, actually? Or is it pretty common? In the grand scheme of things, does timing matter or is the baby/parent experience more important? These are the questions that motivated me to write this post.

This post is part of a series called Infant Bathing Techniques. My goal is to support parents in raising lifelong swimmers with much of the early “work” taking place at home in the bath, a great place to encourage play in the water. In this particular post, I cover:

  • Our experience with delayed bathing
  • Molly’s first bath
  • Research behind a couple of types of baths for newborns
  • How to give your baby her first bath, stress-free
  • My 4 favorite bath essentials

Continue reading “Infant Bathing Techniques, Part 1: Newborns & the Best First Bath”

Think Like a Boat Mom: Boundaries

Updated: August 7, 2017

This weekend, Molly and I visited the Seattle Boat Show. Boat Dad Trevor was there both weekends with his sponsor, Centurion. To translate our lives: “Trevor is loving life, sitting in boats with friends who love boats, sharing all he knows and loves about boats with other boat lovers.” 😉 He is admirable in his pursuit to live his passions, and I appreciate him modeling that for our baby girl! Not only did Molly get to see her daddy in his element, I saw some impressive parenting today that I can’t wait to share with you.

In this post, I share:

  • How to choose boundaries
  • Why consistency matters
  • Choosing words carefully for encouraging direction-following
  • Tricks from the classroom for setting up kids for success
  • Our boating rules for Molly + Pin-able infographic
2017 Seattle Boat Show

My Pool Mom radar went off when I noticed moms corral their water babies crawling around the boats: reinforce boating rules even though the boats aren’t in the water. Smart! {I need an emoji here! Something that speaks happily of shock, awe, and lightbulb brilliance!} Aside from life jacket-wearing (no one took it this far), the rules remained:

  • Stay off the sides of the boat.
  • Sit on the seats; feet stay on the floor.
  • Only grown ups touch the dashboard.

Choosing Boundaries
We choose our boundaries by thinking about how we use our boat and reasonable accidents that might result from ordinary usage; then we think of prevention measures.

Trevor enforced our boat rules with Molly when he made her sit on the seat instead of letting her toddle across the back of the boat. Admittedly, I let her toddle across the back of the boat. {Another emoji, please. Maybe a palm to face. I’m such a newb to boats.} Trevor grew up around boats and this kind of thinking is engrained in him as much as it is for me with pool rules. I just wasn’t thinking like a Boat Mom! So let me try it: next year, I think I’ll bring Molly’s life jacket with us because one of our rules is “wear a life jacket on the dock and boat.”

Why do we have this rule? You might be surprised that it’s not because of the law. If Molly fell in, we wouldn’t be able to find her if we jumped in after her; our lakes are too dark to see more than a few feet.

Washington law states, “Children 12 years old and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless they are in a fully enclosed area.” Our boats are longer than 19 feet, and we choose to have Molly wear a life jacket anyway because it’s the number one way to prevent drowning, even for swimmers.

Choose clear boundaries. Older children are more likely to take logical rules seriously. A few examples: put on a life jacket before you get on the dock, wear a helmet when you ride (see the ambiguity there? With “ride,” I covered bikes, horses, roller skates, skateboards, and snow sports in one fell swoop!), look both ways when we cross the street, and always wearing a seat belt in the car… if a kid asks ‘why?’, it’s easy to explain.

Consistency Matters
Enforcing a boundary enforces the expectation; eventually, Molly will have strong associations to abide by the expectation and make safe choices most of the time. (Anyone else feel weird riding in a car without a seat belt? I can’t do it!)

Consistency is important for small children. The brains of babies and toddlers are driven by emotions and impulses, and parents who successfully help their children navigate emotional challenges do so with a combination of kindness and firmness.

When it comes to water safety, it’s vital to be as clear and consistent as possible. At the boat show, I reminded myself of our family’s boat rules and asked myself, “Would I want Molly to ever think she can get on a boat without her life jacket?” My answer is NO, not in the foreseeable future. This is how I decided to bring her life jacket to other boat shows.

Choose Words Wisely & Other Teacher Tricks
When deciding on your rules, choose your words carefully. Think of what you would say to reinforce it in the positive form. For example, instead of “don’t run,” say, “walk.” The brain will mull over the last thing it heard, so when we tell a child, “don’t run,” we actually set them up to think about running.

Avoid negatives such as ‘can’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘need’, and ‘won’t.’ (Notice how I said ‘avoid’ instead of ‘don’t use’? Is it working? 😉) When I taught in the classroom, one of our rules each year was, “Walk everywhere you go.” That phrase lived in my back pocket because I could apply it to many contexts. I’ve learned that most rules that make sense should be easy to say and broadly applicable.

When kids have remembered and acted upon a rule without needing to be told, you can thank them for (insert rule here.) For example, “Thank you for walking everywhere you go.” This teacher classic positively reinforces an expectation AND builds relationships with kids.

Choose your words wisely, and set kids up to think about what you want them to do.

Wearing a life jacket on a boat is just one of our expectations for Molly; it’s important we honor our boundaries during this early stage of Molly’s life when logic is still developing. Throughout childhood, rules serve as a framework. A strong developmentally-appropriate structure provides children with the sense of safety they crave. The ‘space’ within a clear framework provides kids with a sense freedom, meeting their need for independence.

It’s with these thoughts in mind and Trevor’s boating expertise that we conjured this list of boating rules for our toddler.

  1. Always wear your life jacket
  2. Sit if the boat is moving
  3. Walk everywhere
  4. Only grown ups touch the dashboard
  5. Ask permission to enter the water (every time!)

How this actually executes depends on a lot: mainly, Molly’s mood and determination. 😉 Sometimes, for instance, sitting is out of the question, in which case we corner her and hold on to her life jacket. Flexibility makes my job as a parent a tad less stressful!

If want to use our boat boundaries for yourself, pin the infographic to remember them next time you hit the water!
Click to view an enlarged version… sorry, only the pic below is Pin-able.

Pool Mom's Boat Rules

Even off the water, boating rules exist. I’m curious what the mamas of toddlers and older kids think about this! I hope you’ll let me know in the comments. 🙂

The Seattle Boat Show runs the weekends of January 27th – February 4th at CenturyLink Field Event Center. Swing by the Centurion Boats corner (West 67) to say hi to Trevor and see some gorgeous surf boats up close and personal. You might bump into Molly and me snuggled up in the cushy seats!

The Swim App by American Red Cross

I’m pretty pumped about the American Red Cross’s “Swim” app. It’s available to download for FREE on the App Store, and provides parents with a checklist for tracking swimming progress starting at the preschool level. (I can happily report I’ve already geeked out… I set up a profile for Molly and checked off “blowing bubbles.” Yes, it’s a bit premature; she just turned one.) The app also includes these features (

  • Progress tracker for goals achieved in swimming lessons
  • Stroke videos and performance charts to help with proper techniques
  • “Help your children” activities that reinforce what is covered in lessons
  • Water safety information for parents on a variety of aquatic environments

The early years – 0 to 3 – are mainly about developing a sense of security and comfort in the water in order to prepare children for learning to swim. The app does not provide a checklist for what this means, although it is a great tool for looking at what instructors expect at each stage and tracking what your preschool-aged (or older) child can do. As with any report card, skills may be more complicated than they appear on paper, so it is best to have a trained instructor clarify the expectations for you and your child. At the very least, you can preview the direction we’re headed!

Image via

Getting Started Bathing Your Newborn

In this post, I talk about:

  • Three types of baths
  • Getting started with bath time routines with a newborn
  • Short list of simple bath time supplies

Types of Baths
The newborn bathing advice I received as a new mom was to give sponge baths. Did you know there are more options, though? In my hunt for info., I learned co-bathing and submersion baths are great options to add to the list.

Sponge baths: baby sits in a sink or tub in a few inches of water while caregiver sits or stands next to her to clean

Co-baths: baby and caregiver take a bath together; lots of skin-to-skin contact and water sensory experiences

Submersion baths: baby either sits in a sink or tub, or co-bathes with a caregiver, but is immersed in warm water up to her shoulders

Bath Time Routines
Prep everything ahead of time. I wish I’d learned this habit earlier in life…

Gather all your bath supplies and place them within arm’s reach of your bathing station; you will need to keep a hand on your baby at all times.

Decide how to firmly and safely hold your baby in a way that allows you to clean her with one hand… take your time getting comfortable. One suggestion is to support her upright body with one hand, the back of her shoulders resting against your forearm as you hook your hand under her far armpit. Holding under her armpit will prevent her from slipping. You’ll clean her with your free hand.

In the early weeks, a washcloth and 5 minutes is all it takes, especially while the umbilical cord and belly button are still healing.

Sponge baths are fine and considered a standard of practice, but try a submersion bath if your baby gets fussy. Wait until the umbilical scab falls off before submerging your baby to avoid bacterial infections, though. Once that happens and the area is healed, you can sit your baby in a tub of warm water filled to cover her body, resting in a sling, or in your arms (if you’re co-bathing in the tub.)

Channel calming energy, talk to her, and sing songs; try to make this moment gentle and wonderful for her. Use a different part of the washcloth for each eye, and a separate washcloth for bottoms to prevent the spread of germs. Start in the folds of her neck and work your way down, washing her head last to keep them from getting too cold.

Then finish it up before your baby gets cold. Baths are quick in the beginning. (Read more about cords and circumcision scabs on Dr. Sears’ website.  I like their advice on bathing newborns! Great article on approach, technique, frequency, soaps, and babies who fuss about bathing.)

When one parent bathes the baby alone, keep a rocker in the bathroom (and put your baby’s towel into it for post-bath coziness.)

List of Supplies

  • A rocker. We kept one in the bathroom. This was a game changer for us. Laying an open towel in the rocker before the bath makes a cozy space for baby to lay afterward while you get out of the tub (if you’re co-bathing), empty the water, put away toys, etc. Place your wet baby in the rocker and wrap her up. Now she’s safe and your hands are free! A Boppy pillow can also cradle your sparkling clean babe.
  • This towel by Clevamama is genius and my favorite: it’s thick enough to absorb water, wears like an apron to protect mama’s clothes, and has a hood for baby, but really ANY absorbent towel is good; a lot of those baby towels are way too thin to soak up any water.
  • A tub with a sling. It holds the baby in a cradle and the rest of the baby tub can be filled with water. We used this when we didn’t want to co-bathe or when she was older and we wanted to shower at the same time. It sits on a counter or inside a full-size bathtub. 
  • Baby soap. Grown up soap is too harsh. We’ve tried Mustela and Honest Company, and liked both scents. Currently, we’re using Babyganics, and we like it so far. Molly cries when California Baby soap runs into her eyes.
  • Duck thermometer – I loved this guy as a fast visual to tell if the water is too hot for her. I always feel the water, too, before I put my baby in it. One thing I’ll add is that I never took the temperature of the water and compared it to the duck’s reading, but mostly found that there were times I thought the water felt fine that the duck declared it was too hot. The water should be a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees), otherwise babies will get too cold.
  • 2-3 soft washcloths. My mom bought us some by Circo. They’re nice for washing and also for covering parts for baby bath photos. 🙂


  • Never leave your baby alone, even for a second
  • Feel the temperature of the water before your baby enters
  • Talk to your baby; tell her what’s happening before, during, and after
  • Keep your newborn baby’s mouth and nose above water
  • Allow your baby to explore and experience the water
  • Channel your inner calm & share calming energy with your baby
Pin us if this was helpful!

Baby Swim Experience

To get to where we are today, I approached Molly’s experiences with the water wearing a few hats, so to speak: my parent hat, my teacher hat, and my swimmer hat.

Teachers use lots of methods for instruction. Modeling for her, helping her do things with us, letting her explore by herself… these teaching strategies combined make up the “gradual release of responsibility,” also known as “to, with, by;” the instructor’s duty is to show students how to do something and to support them toward independence. 

Mostly, I let Molly try things that others might deem a little risky. For example, I let her roll over in the tub, and she quickly learned that her mouth and nose go underwater when she does that. It surprised her, and she certainly learned from the experience because now she’s found a way to handle it. “Experience” pairs with research on the way our brains are shaped: through experiences.

Water is part of Molly’s environment. I sing songs and chants I learned from my days in the pool to Molly, and new songs we’ve learned together; she’s learned that bath time and swimming are fun times. She blows bubbles into her cup of water at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and transferred this skill to the tub… and in this scenario, we didn’t teach her this skill. Molly figured out blowing bubbles all by herself. She splashes in the puddle on the kitchen floor after tipping over the dog dish. She floats on her back in the tub with my help and smiles when the water covers her ears.

Molly is confident with water. Having worked with older kids learning to swim, the greatest challenge for children without these kinds of early experiences is overcoming their discomfort and fear. Kids who learn to feel comfortable in the water as babies or toddlers will be more likely to learn water safety skills sooner, and therefore be safer around the water for the rest of their lives.

Now is the best time to start developing a baby’s sense of the water. I’d go so far as to encourage everyone to use whatever means you can to make this happen. Maybe all you have is a bucket… use it! Maybe you have a baby bathtub, a shower, a sink, or swimming pool. Any space available with access to water is a perfect place to begin. There’s no rush, other than to begin.

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