Baby’s first bath – a learning experience for new parents

Clinical Midwifery Educator at Westmead Hospital, Kate Gillis and mother Smita Motilal.

Twice each day, in the morning and early evening, new mums and dads gather for a special lesson in how to bath their newborn child at Westmead Hospital.

“The main thing to start with is being prepared,” said Kate Gillis, Clinical Midwifery Educator at Westmead Hospital.

“So having everything ready to go, your towels, your washers, your clothes, all of that kind of stuff.”

Midwives at Westmead teach new parents the basics and for very good reasons.

“Making sure you are in a safe space for the baby and you don’t leave the baby at any time, so that’s why it’s important to be really prepared,” said Ms Gillis.

Two classes, one at 9am and the other at 6.30pm, seven days a week, guarantee new mums and dads can go home with baby knowing how to bath their newborn properly and safely.

“Being in a nice warm environment, so making sure there are no drafts, you’ve not got any windows open, or doors open where it’s going to get really cold,” Ms Gillis said.

“When you fill the bath, that it’s the right temperature, 37 to 38 degrees.”

First-time mother Smita Motilal has found the lessons invaluable.

“It does make a big difference, because you hear so many things, but when you actually see things and when you actually have professionals showing you what to do, how to do it, answering questions, it really helps, it’s a game changer, you know what to do,” she said.

Ms Motilal and partner Gatandeep Arora welcomed baby daughter Ryka into the world on June 20.

“Now since we spent two nights together, discovering the joy of being a mother, her smell, her touch, when she wants to feed, I’m starting to know her, it’s amazing,” Ms Motilal

Parents are taught a two-step process – first wash the baby’s face and head, then bath the rest of the bub.

Once parents have more experience bathing their baby they will be able to do it in one step.

“When we do the face and head we have the rest of the baby wrapped up so they don’t get cold, making sure you don’t use any soap on the baby’s face advising not wiping over the same places numerous times so you’re not putting anything back into the baby’s eyes or mouth,” Ms Gillis said.

“So the fact that you have to do it, to cover her and then first their head then her body, that I didn’t know,” Ms Motilal said.

Among the lessons are essential tips to ensure the newborn transitions into its surroundings the way nature intended.

For instance, the use of fragrance free soap when bathing a newborn is preferred.

“They’ve got the natural bodily fluids on them from the birth (vernix) and that also helps with the baby’s attachment to the breast and bonding,” Ms Gillis said.

“It’s a good moisturiser for the baby’s skin, you don’t want to scrub it off, it will come off in time.”

One lucky baby is bathed during each class.

“A baby bath is in every single room so that after the bath class they can go back to their own room and bath their baby on their own or with their partner or mum,” Ms Gillis said.

“There can be mucus and things in the baby’s hair – it takes a few washes to come out so it might not come out straight away.

“When you put the rest of the baby in the bath just make sure you hold the baby correctly, supporting the head, so the baby’s head and face doesn’t go into the bath water.

Parents are instructed to work from the cleanest area first – the top of the baby’s shoulders and arms.

A bath can also be used as relaxation for newborns.

“So you might go from a two minute bath if you’ve got a screaming baby to a 10 minute bath if the baby is really finding it relaxing,” Ms Gillis said.

The classes at Westmead cover every step of the way.

“Getting the baby out of the bath, just making sure you are holding the baby nice and securely because the babies are really slippery,” Ms Gillis said.

“When you transfer baby to a towel wrap them up straight away so they stay nice and warm, dry them in the towel as much as possible.”

Parents are told the cord, which is clamped, will fall off within 7 to 10 days.

“Make sure you dry in all the creases … making sure it is nice and dry around the cord,” Ms Gillis said.

Seeing a midwife bath a newborn gives parents confidence.

“Now that I know how it is supposed to happen I’m more comfortable the second time,” Ms Motilal said.

“We know where to go and who to go to for more information – it makes me feel really happy and secure.

“I’m really looking forward to going home and just discovering what it means to be a mother on a day-to-day basis.”

“I’m feeling very confident and I reckon I can play a very good supportive role when Smita’s bathing her,” said Mr Arora.

“It’s a learning curve I know and it’s good to get the basics right which we did, and just looking forward to the next experience.”