Infant Care Routines – Bathing a Newborn – Topping and Tailing

Bathing is not just about cleanliness, it’s also a wonderful bonding experience for both parent and child. For any care provider in fact, bathing can strengthen not only the care providers bond with the child but from a developmental view point, beyond simply strengthening bonds, experiences in the first year of life which teach the child that he or she can trust care providers and that he or she is loved allows for the strengthening of neural network development with the child’s pre frontal cortex, which is essential for healthy development, socially and intellectually at later stages in life.

Some babies will enjoy bathing right from birth, others take a little while to get used to the sensation of warm water on their skin. While bathing is a good way to keep your newborn clean, for the first week  or two you might find it easier and your baby might too, to use the ‘top and tail’ method instead of a full bath. ‘Topping and Tailing’ means washing a baby from head to toe with a warm pieces of moistened cotton wool. It’s the perfect method for the first week or two especially for nervous first time parents or carers until you have built up confidence to start giving full baths. You will only need to ‘top and tail’ a few times a week, although faces and creases or folds in the skin should be cleaned daily or when soiled.

To start a top and tail clean, make sure the room you will be using is warm, that  you have a clean nappy and clothes to hand. Fill a bowl or sink with warm water. Undress the infant and place him or her on a clean towel so that you are ready to dry her quickly afterwards and can wrap the child while washing them. Topping means washing the babies face, neck, and hands. Start by wiping each of the infants eyes using a separate piece for each eye so that you don’t spread any goo from one eye to the other.. Dip a clean piece of cotton wool in warm water and squeeze it out. Gently sweep the cotton wool across the babies eye, starting from the corner near her nose. Using fresh, damp cotton wool, wipe your baby’s ears, and then wipe behind the ears. These areas can become milky and sweaty.

Don’t clean inside the ears as you could damage the infants eardrums permanently. Use fresh pieces of cotton wool to wipe your baby’s face, neck creases, and hands. If the newborn’s skin still has a coating of white, creamy vernix, don’t try to wash it off. Vernix is your baby’s natural cleanser and is very good for their skin. It will wear off naturally quite soon.

Once you have cleaned babies ‘top’ it’s time to tail. Tailing means thoroughly cleaning the infants genitals and bottom as part of the wash and after each nappy change. Baby poop has a higher percentage of fats than adult faeces. You may find it easier to use a mild, liquid baby cleanser or sensitive, unperfumed baby wipes to remove the poop from your baby’s skin. Look for cleansers and wipes that are specifically formulated for babies. Wipes and cleansers should help protect your newborns skin barrier.

It’s a good idea to test any cleanser on a small area of her skin first, to check that it’s sensitive enough. Avoid baby products made with soap, or baby wipes that contain alcohol or perfume, as these can disturb the natural balance of  an infants skin. Once you have washed the child, gently pat them dry. Do not rub. Be sure not to leave creases wet. Once dry smooth on mild moisturising lotion or preferred oil if the skin is dry. If you live in an area which has water restrictions, keep in mind that too much tap water during the first month or so may dry out and damage the baby’s skin. Dress the child.

Written by: Bianca Steyn

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