Nappies, toilet training and bathing

Babies will need nappies until some time into their second or third year.
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  • Updated:2 Sep 2009

04.Bathtime and clothing


For bathing small babies you can use a large plastic bowl, the bathroom basin or kitchen sink (provided you can shield the taps adequately) or invest in a baby bath.

  • Choose a sturdy thick-sided model. Baby baths become very heavy when filled with even the small amount of water required to bathe your baby, so decide where you’re going to bath your baby with an eye to filling and emptying the tub.
  • Aim to minimise the amount of bending you have to do by positioning the bath at a suitable height.
  • The most convenient option is a bath with a plug and draining pipe on a fold-up stand with wheels. You can then wheel the bath up to a suitable tap for filling (attach a hose if the tap doesn’t already have one), wheel it elsewhere for bathing, and then wheel it over to the bath, into the garden or simply put a bucket under it for emptying.
  • Another option is to buy a combined bath and change table.

Bath safety

  • Not all bath safety products are useful: a ‘bath safety ring’ with suction feet and no restraining belt could actually increase the chance of the baby slipping into the water.
  • Products available include bath mats, moulded bath seats and wire-framed towelling bath but beware as they may also provide a false sense of security.
  • Hot water taps can scald even after the bath has been filled, you can reduce these risks by lowering the thermostat on your hot water heater and/or by using an inflatable tap or water nozzle cover, or by wrapping the taps.
  • Always check the water temperature before you put the baby into the bath—use your wrist or another sensitive part.
  • Run the cold tap first, adding hot water afterwards and do the reverse when turning the taps off. Running cold water last through a mixer tap prevents burns both by cooling the metal spout (itself a potential hazard) and preventing a rush of instant hot water when the tap is next turned on.
  • Close adult supervision is especially important at bathtime.

Lotions, wipes and other baby-care accessories

A visit to the baby care section of your local supermarket may have you convinced that you need far more in the way of baby cosmetics than the combined needs of the rest of the family. Most of them aren’t necessary, and some (such as talcum powder, or cotton buds for cleaning ear canals) are not recommended.

What you need for a newborn:

  • A mild soap (or some mild bathing lotion, if you prefer). A special shampoo isn’t necessary at this stage.
  • Sorbolene and glycerine mixture.
  • Tissues, which can be used with water or sorbolene to clean up after dirty nappies, instead of or as well as nappy wipes.
  • Cotton wool balls for cleaning around eyes, and for cleaning and drying the umbilical cord.
  • Soft hairbrush, to help prevent cradle cap.
  • Nail scissors with rounded ends. Babies’ nails grow pretty fast and can inflict plenty of damage to self and others. Baby nail clippers are also available. Some people recommend you simply bite the baby’s nails, but it has to be done carefully so it doesn’t tear too quick.
  • Thermometer.

What you may need, and some handy extras:

  • Zinc-based nappy rash cream – not all babies get nappy rash, so wait and see if you need it.
  • Petroleum jelly – to soften cradle cap crusts, which not all babies get. If you wouldn’t normally use it yourself, wait and see.
  • Baby wipes.
  • Cotton wool squares or rounds with non-fluffing covers – useful for cleaning neck folds, for instance.
  • Olive oil can be used in the bath or after it to moisturise skin, and can be used for baby massage.

Baby clothing

Choose natural fibres wherever possible. Wool and cotton breathe and have very good insulating properties while allowing perspiration to evaporate, making them more comfortable next to the skin. Natural and synthetic mixes are also okay for most babies. Some babies’ skins tend to redden after contact with synthetic fabrics.

  • Buy plain cotton singlets for summer. You can buy a wool/cotton mix for winter if you like, but it’s not necessary.
  • Access to the nappy is important, and zips and pop fasteners are much easier than buttons. Nighties are easiest in terms of changing the nappy when you’re half asleep.
  • Clothes that button all the way up the front (and down both legs if there are legs) are the easiest option for new parents. You don’t have to pull it over your baby’s head and the nappy can be easily accessed.
  • All-in-ones (jumpsuits) keep the baby warm and stop nappy and singlet from drifting apart. You can also buy them with cuffs that can be closed over the hands and feet for warmth, or left open.
  • Boat-neck or envelope-neck pullovers or sweatshirts are easier to put on than ones with a crew neck. Jackets with press-studs or buttons at the front are another option.
  • Babies lose a tremendous amount of heat from their large heads and aren’t equipped with very efficient thermostats at first, so get at least one hat for winter outings.
  • Use a sunhat if the baby is in a carrier.
  • Socks shouldn’t be tight or you might damage small feet, and avoid patterned socks; toes can get caught on the looped threads inside.
  • Children don’t need shoes until they’re walking.
  • Bibs: in general the larger, terry-towelling ones with a velcro closure are better. Plastic-backed ones keep babies’ clothes dry, but may not be as absorbent. Bibs with a close-fitting crew neck aren’t as easy to get on but help prevent gunge collecting in neck folds. If you use a bib with strings, remove it before you put your baby down to sleep.

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