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Infant Bathing

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Photo: Wix

Is there an optimal infant bathing schedule?

When it comes to a bathing schedule it’s important to understand the role bathing plays in a routine. Normally bathing is to clean dirt and oils from the skin as well as maintain an optimal pH of the skin that reduces the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast.

Infants do not get that dirty overall! Most parents will find that if they are keeping up with routine diaper changes and wiping down areas after feeding, then an overall bath probably only needs to be done two to three times a week.

What are some possible side effects of bathing your infant too often?

The most common issue with excess bathing is the potential to ironically be followed by excess dryness. The excess use of soap or cleansers can start to break down natural oils in the skin. For infants that have several skin folds, soap can build up in these folds. If not completely rinsed out this soap can continue to break down the skin in these folds. This can lead to red, raw, eroded plaques in these folds.

Think of your child’s skin as their primary barrier to their surroundings. If you over-wash the skin this barrier becomes weakened. I try to tell parents to think of their skin as not smooth like a wall but more of a brick wall. Excess washing dissolves the mortar that holds the skin cells together. If this breaks down you will be more susceptible to insults and allergens from the environment. We need to keep our barrier intact by finding the right balance between cleaning and protecting.

What if you don't bathe a baby often enough?

Our skin is naturally exfoliating and replenishing on a daily basis. Cleansing helps remove dead skin cells and dirt that build up on the skin. By not cleaning enough, dead skin cells will start to accumulate on the skin and take on a rough or velvety caked-on look. This is referred to as dermatitis neglecta. Bacteria and yeast can start to overgrow in these keratin mounds and result in a higher chance of infection with small cuts or wounds.

How do I strike the right balance to do what is best for my baby?

I completely recognize that the volume of conflicting information on topics such as infant bathing can be really overwhelming for parents. As a Dermatologist that’s also a mom of 3 children and I’m also the daughter of a Pediatrician, I tend to focus on practical advice grounded in moderation. Try this, don’t overthink it.

  • From a routine perspective, planning on taking a bath once to twice weekly is reasonable.

  • If there is a buildup of dirt or debris on your baby’s skin, cleanse it. This may not require a full bath to accomplish, simply running soapy water over these areas and blotting dry is reasonable.

Should I use a baby cleanser or is any cleanser or soap ok?

Baby soaps and cleansers tend to be less irritating and likely contain ingredients that are less harsh. This is beneficial to reduce the tendency toward excessive drying.

Are there any other steps to take to help clean yet protect my baby’s skin during a bath?

Taking the following steps during and after an infant bath can help keep your baby’s skin clean yet protected.
  1. Use lukewarm or warm water. Avoid excessively hot or cold water.

  2. Use baby soap or cleansers.

  3. Avoid using loofahs or abrasive washcloths.

  4. Take the time to make sure soap is completely rinsed out of the folds.

  5. After the bath is over, blot the skin dry.

  6. Apply moisturizer generously over the skin to provide a layer of protection and replace some of the natural oils that have been lost.

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