Before we become fathers we are free to live like children ourselves. We work towards our own ends, we engage in relationships to satiate our own needs and desires, we enjoy leisure-some pursuits based entirely on what we enjoy. Fatherhood, by necessity, changes our focus and our lifestyle.
For myself, fatherhood was the precipitating factor in my finally and irrevocably growing up. I believe that most new fathers (and their partners!) would agree that this is certainly not a detrimental change.
However, this new role and the emotional metamorphosis required by it can be emotionally displacing, even daunting. With our first child, as mum’s gestation snowballed implacably, realisation gradually dawned in my heart that we had in fact committed ourselves to the creation and nurture of a new being. The arrival of our new family member approached inexorably. Increasingly, I abandoned my customary thoughts of self as I considered more the implications of my impending new role as a ‘family man’. Though the prospect of having children delighted me, I felt, frankly, scared. I was unsure of my own knowledge, ability and commitment. Even, though I am ashamed to admit it, a little resentful at the idea that perhaps my life was to be no longer entirely my own. Plagued by these doubts, I set my helm on the course of fatherhood at full steam ahead. Restless, maybe even a little bit manic in my mission to attend to mum’s every need, reassure her of my love and commitment, and prepare our corner of the world for the new arrival.
My (first) daughter arrived 8lb 12oz, by natural birth, on Remembrance Day 2001. This was the most memorable experience of my life. In the subsequent weeks, I discovered to my great relief that I was in fact prepared to be a dad. The burgeoning love in my heart for my life partner and the desire to forge positive and healthy change in our own lifestyle to accommodate our children, were the only necessary prerequisites! Everything I needed to learn about fathering could be gleaned from other parents, commonsense, instinct and most importantly, from the little person herself. Time and understanding are the key ingredients. It is absolutely imperative that a new father spends time with his freshly-squeezed baby. We need to bond. We need to gain confidence. We need to learn.
A practical and enjoyable way for a dad to spend time with his bundle of joy is bathing. At most maternity hospitals, the midwives are more than happy to give fathers a cursory instruction in the practice of bathing a newborn. I learned from a friendly midwife at King George V hospital in Sydney and have since refined my technique into an organised, confident and dad-friendly procedure.
How to bathe your baby
- Wash your hands.
- Put the heater or fire on if it’s winter. If it’s summer find a nice patch of sunlight. Make a space on a rug, blanket or change table. (Do not get into the habit of drying and dressing baby on a bed or couch, in 5 or 6 months they will be rolling over and wriggling away!)
- Next to this area collect: Nappy, clothes, powder or cream, wipes (just in case), a bowl of cooled boiled water (a small amount of baby soap can be added after a few weeks, but plain water is best for newborns), cotton wool, cotton tips, baby nail clippers or scissors, a broad, stable, resealable container with a little olive oil in it. (you need to be able to get some on your fingers with only one hand), two towels (in case one is soiled). See below for instructions on how to make a perfect baby towel.
- Prepare the bath. A newborn can be bathed in a baby bath which can be moved so as to be convenient to your dressing area, or in the bathtub or kitchen sink. So long as the tub is very clean and free from precipitous or sharp objects and the room is warm. Fill the tub with warm water 8” to 10” deep. If you are using a small tub, leave space for the volume of your baby, and your hands, to displace some water. Check the temperature carefully! Swirl the water thoroughly with your left hand to even the temperature then dip the soft skin on the underside of your right wrist in the water. If the water is comfortably warm for you, then it is right for your baby. Plain water is fine for a newborn; as your baby gets older (around 6-10 weeks) you can start to add a drop or two of baby soap (available from a supermarket). If you are bathing baby in the bathtub put down a mat or folded towel for yourself to kneel on. Unless you have your baby bath right next to your dressing area, spread one of your towels on the carpet nearby ie: just outside the bathroom door.
- You are ready to bathe baby. These preparations may seem elaborate, but after a few times you will establish a routine and allocate convenient positions for necessary accessories. Bathe your baby every day if possible; soon it will become second nature.
- Lay bubby down on your spare towel in your dressing area. Undress her down to a nappy and wrap her in the towel. Time to wash her face first. Dip a cotton wool ball in the boiled water, squeeze it out so it is just damp, and wipe gently over one eyelid from the nose outward. Discard this cotton wool and grab a fresh one to do the same for her other eye. Using another fresh cotton wool ball, wipe over the rest of her face. Use cotton tips to very gently clean her nostrils and ears. Don’t probe inside, just clean lightly around the opening.
- Unwrap bubby, take off her nappy, clean up any poos. Lift her gently to the tub.
- Hold your baby with your left hand (reverse this if you are left-handed) under her shoulders, supporting her neck, and close your thumb and forefinger in a ring around the top of her arm. Lower baby into the water with both hands submerging all of her except her face. Once your baby is in the water use your other hand (the one not supporting her head) to carefully rub the water over her skin. Pay special attention to the folds of skin around her armpits, groin and neck. Keep bubby’s face out of the water. It is likely she will want to turn her head to have a look at the water (it is interesting stuff). You need to be her guide in this; getting water in the eyes, mouth and nose of a very young baby can distress them and also poses a slight though unnecessary risk of infections. When my children reach 4-6 months they are starting on solid foods and have some immunities. I let them turn their heads to have a taste of the bathwater; they like it. (Do not do this if you suspect the bathwater may be contaminated with faeces.) Also around this time you can introduce some bath toys.
- Having washed bubby, retaining your head support grip, take her legs in your other hand and lift her onto the towel spread nearby. Wrap her up, pick up your spare towel and take her to the dressing area.
- Dry her off using a gentle patting motion rather than wiping. Be careful to dry behind her ears, under her arms and between her toes and dry her hair thoroughly. Skin left damp, particularly in these areas can quickly develop rashes.
- When baby is dry, take away the damp towel and lay her on her back. Hold bubby with one hand and collect a little olive oil on the other. Ever so gently stroke the oil over her skin, turn her over and do the same on her back. You don’t need to rub the oil in or work out any knots in your baby’s muscles. Just a gently stroking is perfect. This massage aids your baby’s lymphatic and circulatory systems, reduces the chance of skin complaints, helps babies develop proprioception and an awareness of themselves as separate to their environment. It also communicates your affection to them.
- Pat baby’s skin over again with a dry towel to remove any excess oil. Dress her, wrap her and empty the tub.
- Keep baby’s nails clipped regularly or she may scratch her face; baby’s skin is very soft.
To make baby towels
Get a soft good quality towel (they retain their softness through frequent washing). Cut it into 3 pieces, 2 squares and a strip from the middle about 5” or 6” wide. Cut a 6” X 6” square from your strip, then cut it diagonally to make two triangles. Sew a triangle onto a corner of each of your large squares with the long (diagonal) side left open to create a little hood. Hem any cut edges and you’re done. To use the towel, lay bubby diagonally with her head nestled in the hood corner. Use the other 3 corners to wrap or dry baby.
I hope this is helpful to any new dads who are not confident about bathing.
Take advantage of this special time to talk to your baby and get to know them. They will show you, in their way, just how beautiful they really are.
Published in byronchild/Kindred, issue 10, June 04