Bathing and showering are the two main ways we stay clean and relatively germ-free. For adults, our showering schedules vary — some shower every other day, while for others, it’s a daily ritual. So, when it comes to children, parents wonder how often to bathe their baby or toddler.
The answer will vary, depending upon the parent. Some will tell you to incorporate it into your child’s bedtime routine, while others advise you to bathe them less. We’ll help make some sense of it today.
How Often to Bathe Baby and Toddler
How often you bathe your baby or toddler is entirely up to you. Many children sleep well following a bath, which is why a lot of parents include it in the bedtime routine. However, bathing too often can bring more harm than good.
Small babies don’t require daily baths — three times a week should suffice during their first year (1). For now, a good wipe down following spit-ups and diaper changes is enough. Once your little one begins to crawl, you can increase bath times if you prefer.
If you worry about germs as your baby is crawling, you can wipe their hands whenever you get the chance. Although, don’t stress it — bacteria aren’t always harmful.
Once your baby becomes a toddler, you can increase baths. The toddler phase, around 12 to 36 months of age, is a time of exploring with hands. Your little one will investigate, attempt to self-feed, and dig in the dirt, sometimes even the garbage can.
Such activities require proper sanitation, but you should still keep baths to a minimum. Instead, teach your toddler to wash their hands properly using soap, and remind them to do it following play.
Why Everyday Baths Aren’t Always Ideal
1. Germs are Good
If your main reason for bathing your baby or toddler is germs, then you may be pleased to learn that bacteria are not always the enemy.
Your little one is still developing — this includes their immune system. Exposure to germs can help strengthen your baby’s defenses against viruses and conditions like asthma or allergies.
One study showed that the youngest baby in a large family was less likely to develop asthma and allergies. They were exposed to germs and bacteria from infections passed around between the siblings earlier on (2).
Not every infection will benefit your baby, but being exposed to such contagions is the only way a baby’s body can learn to fight them.
2. Hair Issues
If you choose to bathe your toddler every day, hold the shampoo. Shampoos work to trap oils on the hair — such oils are what gives the hair a lush and healthy look.
If adults go too long without shampooing, the oils trap dirt and odors, making it unpleasant to be around. It’s not the same for babies and toddlers. On the contrary, by shampooing too often, you run the risk of drying out their hair (3).
It can be tricky with toddlers as they always seem to get stuff in their hair, particularly girls. The best thing to do is to wash the hair as needed. Use a mild baby shampoo that won’t dry out the strands by frequent use.
3. It’s Time-Consuming
If you have more than one child, bathing them every day requires some effort. The nightly bathtime for baby isn’t always something parents look forward to, nor is it always feasible.
You shouldn’t feel bad if you skip bath time because you’re feeling tired or don’t have time.
Baths are time-consuming, especially with children aged 4 years and under. At this age, adult supervision while junior is in the tub is vital. It only takes a few inches of water for a child to drown if they roll over or get stuck (4).
Even if you use bath rings or seats, it’s not a guarantee for safety. Such items are there for support, not to prevent drowning. So, if you don’t have time to give your full attention, it’s best to wait.
4. Dry Skin
It’s a challenging balance to figure out what’s best, seeing that not bathing enough can also aggravate eczema and other skin issues. Although bathing in water isn’t the most significant irritating issue — it’s the soaps and cleansing products we tend to use.
Leaving your little one in a bath full of soap will draw moisture from their skin, leaving it dry and exposed.
Sensitive or eczema-prone skin will worsen with frequent washings, especially if you use cleansing products. If your child has either of these conditions, leave bath time to every two to three days.
If you choose to bathe your baby every night before bed, keep it short. The water should be lukewarm, and you should only use cleansers or soap right at the end to minimize the exposure.
Following the bath, pat — don’t rub — your baby dry with a towel. Then apply a child-friendly moisturizing lotion or another cream recommended by your pediatrician.
To combat dry skin, apply the cream or lotion while the skin is still a little damp. Then pat gently again with a towel.
A Little Dirt Never Hurts
New parents typically wonder how often to bathe their baby or toddler, but there’s no definitive answer. Experts will tell you three times a week for the first year is sufficient. However, if you want to bathe your baby more frequently, that’s fine too.
If you choose to give frequent baths, keep soap and cleansing products to a minimum. Only give short baths and apply a baby-friendly moisturizer afterward.