Smart Shopping: Baby Bathtubs
A baby bathtub provides an appropriately compact place for bathing. It can be placed in a sink, in a regular bathtub, on a counter or kitchen table, or on the floor. But no matter where you bathe your baby, be sure to keep a hand on her at all times to prevent her from sliding underwater.
Here are a few bath-time tips. For starters, don't worry about giving your baby an official bath right away. Except for sponge baths, bathing shouldn't start until the stump of your baby's umbilical cord falls off (between one and three weeks post delivery). After that, you can give your baby a bath every day if you find it necessary, although two to three times a week is better because daily bathing can dry out a baby's tender skin. In addition to the tub, you'll need a soft towel (preferably hooded to cradle your baby's head), a baby washcloth, and an unscented, hypoallergenic baby body wash that doubles as shampoo.
For a baby 6 months or younger, buy a bathtub that has a contoured design or an internal sling that cradles the baby in the water. A mildew-resistant, padded foam lining is also a plus, although to prevent mildew and soap-scum buildup, you'll still have to clean the tub and dry it after each use. If you're short on space, buy a unit that folds. You can also buy one that doesn't fold and can be stored in your shower (ideally) or a closet. Don't buy an inflatable bathtub or a bath seat, even if your pediatrician recommends it. (One new mom we know of was even offered the chance to try out a bath seat at the pediatrician's office.) Be consistent and a stickler when it comes to bath-time safety.
Bathtubs range from $7.99 (for a bath sling) to $40 (for an infant tub -- with a built-in digital thermometer -- that allows "dirty" water to drain and fresh water from the faucet to circulate as baby bathes).
Basic tubs that are flat on the bottom.
Tubs with a foam-lined, contoured interior that allows a baby who can't sit up to relax in a semi-upright position.
Tubs with internal nylon mesh support slings featuring padded headrests that cradle newborns.
Inserts that don't include a tub -- they're little more than a sling that can be used in a baby tub and a sink to prop your baby up.
Tubs designed to fit in the sink, and then convert to a tub that can be placed in a regular bathtub when your baby can sit up.
Tubs that are designed to fit in a regular tub from the start.
Tubs with many of the above features that fold for more compact storage.
There are also inflatable tubs that fit inside a regular bathtub to give your baby a padded space to bathe in, but we don't recommend them because they can be dangerous. Parents might put them into a regular bathtub with water in it. The inflatable tub can then float and tip, spilling the baby.
These are designed to be used us a regular tub by a baby who is able to sit up. We do not recommend them. The seats present safety issues and can induce a false sense of security, leading parents to think that they can turn their back on the baby for a short time.
If you buy a baby bathtub, you probably will use it for less time than you might think. With that in mind, you might want to keep it simple. Here are some baby-bathtub features to consider.
In lieu of a sling, a contoured design is a must for keeping a baby from sliding around too much.
This can make the tub easier to empty. A large drain plug allows for quicker post-bath cleanup.
Some bathtub models have a temperature indicator -- a drain plug or a temperature strip changes color when the water is too hot for a baby. In our tests, we found these features to be impractical. It's too difficult to keep track of a temperature strip or the shade of a plug when you're bathing a baby. Don't bother with these high-tech extras when you're shopping.
Many tubs are made to last from newborn to toddler. Some models include a hammock-like padded infant cradle that you take out when your baby can sit up unassisted. Another is molded to support a baby under both arms; a crotch post keeps babies from slipping forward in the water. With this model, babies can be bathed in a reclining position from birth to 6 months. Then, from 6 to 24 months, they sit upright facing the other direction; the older-baby end of the tub has fewer infrastructures and more wiggle room. A convertible tub, though, probably won't last as long as manufacturers claim. As we mentioned, a convertible tub will probably buy you three additional months or so, but not much more.
Some tubs fold in half for easy storage or travel. The downside? Some foldable tubs can be compact; your baby might grow out of it quickly. To make sure that a foldable tub won't leak, practice at first with a small amount of water.
It's cozy and supportive, especially for a newborn. Some models come with a two-position backrest for added comfort. Some fabric slings have steel rods that support the infrastructure. We think that steel rods might become uncomfortable when your baby kicks his legs or moves from side to side. Other slings are hammock-like and don't have steel rods. Look for those.
Some tubs feature a separate, battery-powered shower unit that lets you rinse your baby with fresh water from the sink instead of using bath water. The style can be unwieldy because you may need more hands than you have -- one hand on the baby, another to wash him, then two additional hands to use the shower feature. In our tests, we found that a showerhead might deliver water too slowly to get the job done fast and efficiently.
Some models have a handle or hook on the back to hang the tub up for draining or storage. That's a feature to look for if space is tight. Hang the tub upright from its hook in your shower, so water doesn't drip onto the bathroom floor.
This feature makes it much easier to carry a heavy, water-filled tub (without your baby in it, of course).
Some models have a nonskid surface on the bottom to keep the tub from sliding in a regular bathtub.