Anyone who’s ever tried to bathe a newborn knows it’s not always as easy as it seems. Until you get the hang of it, baby’s first few baths can be stressful — both for a newborn (who is used to the cosy comfort of Mom’s womb) and a parent (who has to get a slippery, crying baby clean). But a Colorado hospital has found a solution that they say helps keep the tiniest infants calm and relaxed for their very first bath: immersive swaddle baths.
The concept combines baths with swaddling, which newborns find soothing since it reminds them of the tight confines of the womb. Baby is loosely wrapped in a dry hospital swaddle blanket, then immersed in a warm infant tub up to his shoulders. His arms and legs are individually unwrapped and scrubbed, then placed back in the swaddle position before moving on. For baby’s torso, the bath-giver can gently turn the newborn onto his side and either wash under the blanket with a washcloth or massage the blanket from the outside.
The practice was first put in place at the hospital this May by Edna Sailer, a registered nurse for 38 years, the past 19 at Poudre Valley Hospital. In January 2016, she began teaching the method at a university in Denver, Colorado. As she dived into the research and saw the many potential benefits, she proposed bringing the practice to her hospital in March 2016. Most families, Sailer says, loved it, so they rolled it out facility-wide two months later.
Many babies love swaddling baths because they address their developmental needs. Compared to the warm, cosy confines of the womb, unwrapping a newborn and immersing it into a bath where the limbs dangle about can be very disruptive, Newborns, like fetuses, prefer to be contained and not jostled about.
Babies who receive swaddle baths have less variability in temperature — important to keep their glucose and energy levels stabilized. Because swaddling baths can help reduce a newborn’s stress and increase comfort, they may also boost your confidence and sense of control as a parent. A baby that is happy sends the message that the parent is doing the right thing.
The main risk with swaddling baths is the same as with any bath: temperature control. Babies can easily become over- or under-heated, so it’s important to make sure the water is between 100 to 103 degrees F and bathing last no more than seven to eight minutes, with baby quickly towelled down after. And, of course, a baby should never be left alone, even for a second, in or around sitting water.
If you want to try swaddling baths at home, your hospital may be able to show you how. Otherwise, check with your paediatrician.
The good news is, many babies take relatively well to all kinds of baths, including sponge baths, from the get-go. And even those who don’t at first usually get used to the whole bath thing pretty fast and soon dig it (what’s not to love about soothing, warm water?).