I was startled by how delicate newborns are when I was handed one of my own in the hospital. When she was in the hospital crib, my husband and I stood over it and watched her with desperation in our eyes: how on earth would we pick her up, let alone take her home? For anything, we would reach out and press the bell and an exasperated nurse would appear to ascertain why the baby was mewling like an irate kitten.The hospital staff gave me lessons on how to bathe the tiny bundle of humanity, and all I could think was ‘no way can I do this without them. Can I ask to stay longer here? Maybe until the child can bathe itself?’
Never the less, on the 4th day after the delivery, they firmly bade us adieu and we were on our way back home. Now in the Indian set up, more often than not, there is a bevvy of mothers to help. But it’s hard to concentrate when all 9 of them are yelling instructions as you finally put your foot down and give the baby a bath without any grandmaternal intervention. Luckily newborns don’t need comprehensive baths every day. In fact, until the umbilical cord falls off between his 5th to 15th day, one should refrain from giving the baby full-scale baths in a tub of water and with soap. Just sponging is good enough. You can keep lots of (Very Clean!) cotton which you can dip in warm (drinking) water and clean the face.
The poo poo and pee pee areas anyway are getting more cleaning than you would ever have thought possible. The rest you can wipe down with a very soft cloth, and begin full-scale baths about twice a week once the umbilical cord has fallen. For those days, it’s useful to have a shallow baby tub, and I had a netted hammock type thing on which to rest the baby so I didn’t have to immerse her at all in the water, lest she slips in and gets submerged. Because that’s a real concern, you know. Never, ever let the child get submerged. Don’t leave her in the tub alone even if it’s just for a second. Ask that husband of yours to fetch and carry if you’ve forgotten stuff for the bath (“YOU’re tired, Mister? Why don’t we switch places, I would like to take countless coffee breaks and crib about the boss all day, instead of play whoopsie-daisy with this little slippery character over here). Before putting your child into the tub, test the temperature of the bathwater by dipping your elbow in it. If it feels even a little too warm, adjust it to avoid scalding.
Now that’s taken care of, next concern is what to use as soap? It has to be very gentle because baby skin is extremely delicate. Anything even the least bit harsh can dry the skin out. Read my next article to know your options. You should wash the face first, and the genital and bottom areas last. Save the most dirt-prone areas for last, essentially; so the dirt doesn’t get spread around. ‘Keep a firm grip on the head and bottom while you’re continuing these ministrations’ the internet told me; so I initially thought I would need to grow an extra arm on top of all the other miraculous changes the body undergoes to provide for my offspring. I finally understood that I was to lay the baby along the length of one arm, with her head in my palm and bathe her with the other. Which sounded like juggling, so I went ahead and bought a hammock thingy. However much both of you enjoy the bath, best not to dawdle. Once out of the bath, wrap the baby completely with a soft towel before taking her to a flat surface to dry her. Make sure you pat her dry in all those adorable little folds, as trapped moisture might affect the skin. Dress your baby in nice, clean, dry clothes. And voila you have a fresh, clean little human; all relaxed and ready for a hopefully long nap!