D has always loved his bath. The very first time he laughed was in the bath, as I trickled water on his chest.
A, on the other hand, had a rough beginning. A was initially bathed in the pink hospital storage bins. He hated every minute of it, screaming from the moment he was placed on the scale (precursor to bathing in the NICU) until he was hooked back up to all his various devices, dressed, and tightly swaddled. When he had open abdominal surgery at 29 days old, plus was given his gastrostomy tube, we were told not to bathe him for 6 weeks. Thus, he only had sponge baths, which he tolerated but did not enjoy. Before the 6 weeks had elapsed, A was given a PICC line in his arm, and we were told to not bathe him until he no longer had it. (An older child or adult could, I’m sure, bathe with a central line IV, but trying to keep an entire arm out of the bath and a wet, squirmy baby in the bath, is beyond most people, myself definitely included.) Then he had another abdominal surgery which necessitated a new ostomy for his G-tube, and another 6 weeks of no baths.
And so it was that A, at 5 months old, was given his first bath in an infant tub. I happen to love (love, love, LOVE) our infant tub. We used the “Whale of a PlayTub”. It worked perfectly from negative-three weeks old (D’s discharge from NICU) until almost a year old (longer for A, who is small and has low muscle tone). I was dismayed to see that his early fear/hatred of baths was still present. I mentioned it to his PT/OT from Early Intervention, who used to work as a NICU developmental therapist and is a genius when it comes to sensory issues. She and I gave A his first “swaddle bath” right in my living room.
Giving a swaddle bath is easy. The idea behind it is to help the baby feel safe and warm. A, like many NICU babies (and probably babies, period) felt insecure in the bath and needed to learn to love it. First, fill the tub with a few inches of warm water. Make sure to have a cup or ladle near by, along with towels, soap (if you’re using it), etc. Next, tightly swaddle the naked baby in a fleece blanket. (It has to be fleece; other fabrics quickly become cold when wet.) Then place the swaddled baby in the tub. I was amazed when we reached this step, as A did not scream in the slightest. Pour water over the baby, getting the whole blanket wet. The fleece will retain the warmth.
That can be it. Or, if your baby seems ready, unswaddle one limb at a time, wash it, then re-swaddle it. Always wash the head last, as it is exposed to the air and can get cold, plus the face can be very sensitive.
As time goes on, loosen the swaddle. Don’t re-swaddle the legs after washing. The idea is to gradual phase out the swaddle, depending on the baby’s needs. For A, he quickly progressed to only needing swaddling when transitioning in and out of the tub, then just in, then just loosely wrapped in a blanket which remained on the bottom of the tub after he was in, and then nothing. Now A, like D, is a water baby, loving baths, swimming, etc.
Because of my husband’s work schedule, I almost always did bath time alone during their first year. My twins couldn’t share a bath for quite some time (15 months is when we began), due to A’s difficulties with sitting upright and D’s propensity to yank on A’s G-tube. So I would put one in a bouncy seat (and later exersaucer) right outside the bathroom door, bathe the other, dress him, and then swap places. It worked very well. Bath time was one of my favorite times with the boys when they were infants, in part I think because it was largely one-on-one, and in part because they both loved their baths so much.