Don’t Throw the Baby with the Bathwater: How to Calm Babies and Toddlers During Bath Time

When my eldest was a newborn, my husband and I made a pact. We swore we’d always bathe her together until she was big enough. The reason was partly because in China, the bathrooms aren’t like they are in the states.

Bathtubs are rare. Your whole bathroom is the shower. It is excellent for cleaning since you can use the shower attachment to hose down the entire place. But for bathing a baby, it was a challenge.

Fortunately, we got a baby tub. And we thought that would be easy. It turns out we had a lot to learn.

When it was time for us to bathe her the first time in our home, to say we were tense was an understatement. She was so tiny and delicate, we worried about dropping her. So one of us held her while the other washed and rinsed her.

Needless to say, she went bonkers. She screamed and cried, and it was just awful.

When your newborn hates bath time, it’s scary. But it’s normal too. And yes, if a toddler hates bath time all of a sudden, that is also a common occurrence. Basically, if the baby hates bath all of a sudden or your toddler is afraid of the bath, trust me when I say I have seen it with my own eyes. I’ve lived through it right in the trenches.

And now I know how to calm a newborn during bath time. And soon, you will too.

Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, but in a year from now, you’re going to laugh at all of this. But let me help you right now by giving you just what you need to survive baby crying while bathing or your toddler bath time tantrums.

Is it normal for newborns to hate baths?

child before bath

Yes, oh, yes. It is so normal for babies to hate baths. Not all of them do, though. My eldest was absolutely terrified of them in the beginning. But not my youngest. My youngest, despite being a clinger, was a much more mellow baby.

A couple of things were going on with my eldest that I didn’t realize until I talked with my breastfeeding coach, Vivien, and other experts. The first suggestion was to make sure the water was at the right temperature. You should keep it just about 100°F to keep your baby comfortable. I used to put my elbow in the water to see if it felt warm. It shouldn’t feel hot.

A baby bath thermometer is a great idea. Something like this floating duckie bath thermometer can be helpful during bath time for babies and toddlers.

We had a thermometer, but there was nothing wrong with the temperature we were using. That’s when Vivien suggested the baby was picking up our fear. Babies are insanely intuitive. They can’t speak or do much of anything, but they KNOW when you’re freaked out.

She suggested we start smiling and singing and just treating it like we were all at Disney World. It took a few baths like this, but soon, she was no longer crying during the bath.

Baby cries after a bath are likely to do with being cold again after getting out of the tub. If this is the problem you’re facing, look for ways to keep the bathroom or bathing area warm. And be sure you have a baby towel (preferably with a hood like this adorable hooded baby towel) that you can wrap her up with and change her fast.

What about a toddler refusing bath time?

Now, what happens when you have a toddler that hates baths? Perhaps you had an easy baby like my youngest, who didn’t mind baths as a baby. Perhaps you already rode the omg-my-baby-flips-out-during-bath-time wave and conquered it as my husband, and I did. Whatever the case, you’ve got a 2 year old that suddenly hates baths.


The fear of bathing, ablutophobia, is quite common at this stage. Children at this age are undergoing rapid brain development. So simple things like thunder, the toilet flushing, and yes, the water going down the drain can overwhelm them by sight and sound.

Children at this age are most likely to think they might get sucked down the drain. My eldest became fearful of the water going out of the tub. When she started acting this way, we remained calm and assured her she could not fit down the drain. That wasn’t enough to calm her down.

So, we took to taking her out of the tub and THEN draining it. Eventually, she stopped being scared of it. A simple art of distraction can help. Further below, I have some bath time tips for newborns up to toddlers, so check it out.

How long should a baby go without a bath?

Newborns don’t move around much, so you can get away with bathing them every other day. Unless they have a diaper blowout. Ugh.

As they get more mobile though, you may need to bath your child every day. I’m telling you, no matter how clean you keep your floors, your crawling toddler WILL find a way to become gross and gamey. Bank on it.

How do I keep a baby or toddler happy in the bathtub?

Do I look like I can hate bathing?

Now here is my ultimate list of making bath time a happy time for newborns up through toddlerhood. Some kids even beyond toddlerhood will just not like bath time. I have a friend with a boy who is much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and she has had to resort to extreme measures to get him to cooperate. For the rest of us though, these tips should help!

  • Watch that water temperature

Scalding water is dangerous for newborns and any child. But cold water is upsetting. That thermometer is a huge blessing that will tell you the temperature to avoid any surprises.

  • Have all your clothing and supplies within reach

The biggest rookie mistake you can make is to get baby in the tub, bathed, and then go to dress her and realize you left the clothes and diapers in another room. Now you have to take baby with you as you scavenge for these items. This will most likely result in baby crying after the bath.

  • Choose an unscented baby soap

Dove makes a nice fragrance-free baby soap that is ideal for sensitive skin. Babies naturally are more sensitive and tender on their skin at this stage. When you use something designed not to irritate their skin or eyes, it makes a huge difference.

  • Keep the bathroom warm

Run the shower before you fill up the tub. This will help get the bathroom nice and steamy. And nice and steamy translates to warm and cozy for baby. If you have a baby that only cries after the bath, this is my best tip for you!

  • Get a good baby tub or bath hammock

As I mentioned, in China, tubs are rare. So we bought a baby bath tub. But something was missing from it. You can’t just put a newborn in a tub. You have to hold your baby or she’ll slip under the water.

This is why my husband and I were so tense. But we found something that made our lives better. A baby bath hammock secures to the tub and gives you a safe place to set your baby in the tub until she’s capable of sitting up all on her own. You should NEVER leave your baby unattended in the tub for even a second, even with a baby bath hammock. In fact, NEVER be out of reach of your baby during this time. Everything else can wait, believe me.

Something simple like this tub with a mesh sling for bathing the baby will do just fine! A toddler bath for a shower setting is smart. You can use this inflatable tub which is perfect for homes with little storage.

  • Use a cup or shower wand for rinsing

Gushing water out of the faucet sounds scary to little ears. Instead, use a cup to scoop water and gently pour it over the baby. That’s what we did, though I have friends in the states who recommended a shower wand to control the flow. We didn’t have that option, but you can find one just like this shower wand!

  • Keep a routine
baby enjoying bathing

From infancy to toddlerhood, keeping a bath time routine will always help. Kids always feel more comfortable when they know what to expect as is the case with routines that have timing and activities firmly in place. Additionally, make sure your child has already eaten before bath time. A hungry child equals a cranky child so eliminate that from the bathing equation.

  • Try a bath cap

Some friends of mine swore by this bathing cap to keep water, shampoo, and soap from running into little eyes. I never used one, but it looks like a great way to avoid all that screaming!

  • Pretend you’re auditioning for American Idol

Sing, sing, and sing some more. We sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to our eldest with the most ridiculous reprise ever. We were determined to be goofy to the point of insanity if that kept her from crying in the tub. Once we got past all the tears, I’d narrate everything I was doing. Babies love our voices as it’s comforting so be sure to use yours.

  • It’s all in the toys

Toys make bath time the best time of all. I’d say avoid anything that allows water in via holes because it develops mold and mildew which is disgusting. They make tons of safe baby and toddler toys for the tub. You may want to review from a selection of safe options and let your child choose the ones they like best from your pre-selected suggestions.

rubber duckies toy

These stacking cups might be perfect to start with. However, with any and all bath toys, even safe ones, make sure you clean them regularly to prevent soap scum buildup and clear away dirt and germs.

How do I get my toddler to stop drinking the water from the bath tub?

Now this was a problem I didn’t have until my eldest was much bigger. She was even past toddlerhood when she started doing it. I looked at her with a raised eyebrow and said, “No, bathwater is not something we should drink.”

She looked me right in the eye and drank another sip. I remained calm and told her, “I can get you some fresh water if you’re thirsty, or you can drink the water that has dirt and poo particles in it.”

Suddenly, she realized this was a very bad idea. She agreed to getting out of the tub and drying off while I went to get her a fresh cup of water.

Basically, telling your child the water you bathe in isn’t safe for drinking should work. Telling them they could get a stomachache from it can also help.

Final Thoughts on Bath Time

Bath time with babies and toddlers isn’t always easy. But one day you will realize your child is taking showers all on their own (and without you having to nag them to do so). Enjoy these precious moments and remember, there will come a day when you will miss these times, so grab a bath toy and make silly voices while you can!

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