Make it a time for bonding…
Bathtime is one of the most important rituals of being a parent. Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking bathing a baby is about getting cleanliness: that, in fact, is the least important reason for turning on the taps. As every parenting manual you could care to name points out, babies don’t really need to bathe at all – not until they’ve started crawling around and getting mucky, anyway. For small babies, topping and tailing has always been just as efficient as bathing, and a lot less hassle, when it comes to keeping essential bits clean. But bathtime, isn’t actually about personal hygiene: it is about bonding, enjoying your baby, having fun, playing and learning.
And in that respect, it’s probably more crucial a part of your baby’s life than it’s ever been. Bathtime is a practical must when it comes to bonding (unlike the odd time you hoped you’d steal to look at a book with your baby, or sit on the sitting-room floor with him for half an hour before teatime). In a nutshell, it’s the quality time in your baby’s routine-bound day, so it’s no wonder so many parents say that it’s the highlight of theirs, and fathers (especially first-timers) jump every red light on their homeward dash in the hope of getting back in time to catch their little tiddler splashing around in bubbles.
Invite Daddy along…
Research shows that, in fact, it really does matter to those babies that their fathers make it in time. A study has found that babies who miss out on regular baths with their fathers are more likely to grow up with social problems. Those babies who don’t have regular bathtimes with their father are also three times more likely to have behavioural problems, according to research that tracked 100 youngsters from babyhood to adolescence. In the study, Dr Howard Steele from University College London found that 30 per cent of babies who were not bathed regularly by their fathers went on to have “significant friendship problems” as they got older. Only three per cent of those babies who were bathed by their fathers three or four times a week then went on to have the same problems with friendships.
According to Dr Steele, it’s not
just about quality time, either – there’s
a scientific basis to his findings. When touch and warm temperatures are combined, the effect in the human body
is to release the “love hormone” oxytocin, which reinforces the child’s feeling of being loved, cherished and cared for. In other words, bathtime isn’t just a convenient moment in the day to reinforce a parent’s love for their baby: it’s scientifically the very best time to do it, too. What’s more, fathers have a particularly powerful influence on a child’s social development. “The function
of the father is to introduce the child to the social world beyond the mother, through assuming some of the early caregiving duties and increasingly via playtime and joyful stimulation of the child’s interest,” says Dr Steele. “Bathtime is an obvious place for this in a father’s busy life.”
Feed your baby in the bath…
In his book Birth And Beyond (Vermilion, £25), Dr Yehudi Gordon suggests that a bath can also be a good place for a mother to feed her baby (warm water encourages the let-down reflex in the breast, so mothers having feeding problems could find this particularly useful, providing they’re confident enough to feeding while lying down in the bath). He suggests one parent should be in the bath and the other act as the attendant to take the baby out when he’s ready.
Get the temperature right…
The bath temperature, of course, is a big issue. Under-ones have very sensitive skin, so the water must not be too hot. Too cold and your baby may be turned off bathtime for a very long time. Investing in a bath thermometer is one effective solution – go for between 25˚C and 28˚C – but you can easily test the water temperature with your elbow – a simpler alternative that’s worked well for many generations of parents. You should also make sure that the room itself is warm so your baby doesn’t get chilly on getting out. And if you do take a dip, too, wrap him in a towel before you start drying yourself.
Relax before bedtime…
The great thing about bathtime is that, once your child is in the bath, you can’t just walk out and leave him there: you’ve got to stay with him, so you carry on interacting and stimulating him. You’re so important to him at that point: if he’s a bit scared of the water, you have to reassure him, and even when he’s sitting up you have to stay right there just in case he starts sliding down.
It’s a great chance to play and explore – it’s a free and relaxing time for both parents and baby, a kind of wind-down time at the end of the day. Using bathtime as part of the bedtime routine signals to your baby that you’re moving towards the end of the day, so he knows what to expect next. It’s an important way of helping children to get to sleep without fuss.
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