Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without. While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.
Or are they?
In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t. They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.“
Non-Essential #5: Baby Bathtubs
I’ll admit off the bat that I hemmed and hawed a bit whether to include this item in this series. Many parents do already understand that’s it’s not really an “essential.” But since it’s another big hunk of plastic that we can live without, frequently included on “the lists,” and since many parents are not fully aware of the alternatives, I decided to include it.
Convenience or Nuisance?
Supposedly just the right size and shape to safely contain a slippery, squirmy newborn, baby bathtubs always seem convenient. Until you actually use one.
In my experience, at least (I’ll confess that, full of optimism, I used them — briefly — with both of my babies), they are little to no help in keeping baby in a secure position. Baby still slides everywhere.
Then when you’re done, it has to be drained, rinsed, dried, and stored somewhere. And suddenly this unusual shape that seemed so well-designed to hold a baby reveals its big, awkward, bulky, and hard-to-fit-anywhere true colours. For a 10-minute bath, it’s an awful lot of work… and then your baby is just going to outgrow it within a few months anyway.
Alternatives to Plastic Bathtubs
Newborn babies are so tiny that any biggish bowl can serve just fine for a bath. Other options would include any bucket you have on hand, and of course your kitchen or bathroom sink. Anything that holds water can be a bathtub. Of course, you should only have a small amount of water in there and always keep your hands on your baby, but hopefully I don’t need to remind you of that.
Babies don’t always need “immersion” baths anyway. Unless you have big dried-on poo messes to deal with, infants don’t really get all that dirty, and many are quite alarmed and disturbed at being placed in any tub of water, especially as newborns. A simple sponge bath, with baby lying on a towel or simply in your arms, will suffice just fine until they are big and dirty enough to really need more rigorous bathing. And as for the big dried-on poo messes, if you’ve ditched your diapers, odds are that you won’t be dealing with that particular kind of mess quite as often anyway.
Another wonderful option is to just bring your baby into the bathtub with you. How often do new mothers lament that they can’t even get enough time away from caring for their newborn to have a shower? This is the perfect solution. You get a soothing, luxurious bath, skin-to-skin bonding time with your baby, and a clean little tike as part of the bargain. Fussy babies frequently become calm and serene when bathing with mommy.
Herbal baths can be beneficial for both mom and baby, helping to heal postpartum wounds as well as the umbilical stump.
As always, there are safety precautions to follow when bathing with your baby – primarily, be sure the temperature is not too hot, and that there is either someone available to hand the baby to when you get out, or you have a safe and easy place to put the baby (remembering that you will be wet and holding a wet baby), such as a bouncy seat, before getting out yourself. But when you can manage it, the sheer bliss of the experience is one not to be missed.
You Can Be Too Clean
Oftentimes, parents operate under the mistaken assumption that babies need frequent, even daily baths. But the fact is that they don’t. Our well-intentioned but over-exuberant ministrations of water, soaps, and lotions, strip away the skin’s natural oils leading to dryness and irritation, and frequently expose your baby’s tender skin to harsh (and, arguably, toxic) ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, preservatives, and artificial fragrances. Worse still are those soaps that contain anti-bacterial ingredients such as triclosan. The best treatment for your baby’s skin is generally to leave it alone. If you do use cleaning products once in awhile, make sure sure they are gentle and naturally-based.
Babies are not yet sweaty teenagers, and they are not rambunctious children playing in the mud. They need occasional spot-cleaning of spit-up and poo, but that’s about it. As they get older, many babies and toddlers do enjoy baths as part of a relaxing bedtime routine, and that’s fine… but it isn’t strictly necessary from a cleanliness point of view. It may even be in their best interests to let them stay just a little bit dirty.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo: Jason DeRusha under Creative Commons