Grooming Baby: Keeping Your Little One Clean and Comfortable

You probably think that that you know everything you need to know about baby care, baths, and grooming - after all you've been grooming and caring for yourself since you were in elementary school. Sometimes basic baby care can present some unique challenges that you may not know how to tackle; we've asked our experts to handle some of the toughest questions to help you understand baby care, bathing, and grooming. From treating baby acne to clipping nails, we've found the answers to help you give your baby excellent care. We talked to pediatrician Lynn Smitherman, M.D., recently about basic baby care. Here is what the assistant professor of pediatrics at Detroit's Wayne State University had to say:

Q: Because many parents - especially first timers - are obsessed with germs and cleanliness, bath time might seem like a crucial part of baby's hygiene. But how often does a baby really need to be bathed?

A: Infants don't really need to be bathed more than two to three times per week. Parents should always wash their baby's face and diaper area really well, but the rest of the body -arms, legs, tummy and back - doesn't really get that dirty. Once babies start crawling or toddling, it is important that their hands are kept clean, and if they are going barefoot, that their feet are clean. That means bathing baby more frequently - maybe every other day. Be careful, especially in the winter, not to overdo the washing because the soap and water can dry out their skin. By 1 year of age, they will need to be bathed even more frequently, perhaps daily, because they can get really messy.

Q: When it comes to baby's first bath, a lot of parents head for the kitchen sink, which is at a comfortable height and is small enough to seem manageable. Do you need to do anything special if you're going to use the sink?

A: You do want to wash out the sink really well. Just make sure there is no food or dirt left over from the last time you washed dishes. And, if you use harsh cleansers on your sink, be sure to wash it really well with soap and water and then rinse it one last time with hot water to get rid of any residue. If there's residue left over, it can cause irritation to baby's skin. Another option is bathing baby in an infant bathtub. Most keep baby at an angle so they're not lying flat, helping to keep water from pooling up in the diaper area, which is where you need to concentrate your cleaning anyhow.

Q: What about temperature? How do you know if it's too hot or too cold?

A: The best way to check the temperature of the water is with your elbow or forearm, since those are more sensitive than your fingers. You want the water to be a little warmer than lukewarm - just warm enough to feel comfortable. And keep in mind that the naval cord has to be completely off and healed - this happens around week three - before you submerse baby entirely. Until then, you can make do with a sponge bath.