There is a secret I want to share with you and it is called Swaddled Bathing!
I know what you may be thinking…swaddling my baby and bathing them at the same time? Let me promise you, it is such a cool experience for both you and your newborn. I was first introduced to swaddled bathing during my Neonatal Touch and Massage Certification. We had a simulation and various videos to show us the impact of swaddled bathing on premature infants, or term infants that with medical complexities.
If you simply google “swaddled bathing” it is slowly becoming more and more prevalent for typical term babies. The benefits of swaddled bathing can still be significantly positive for newborn infants up to 3 months of age. There are endless research studies on the positive effects of swaddled bathing on preterm infants, but not as much information out there on how it still can be beneficial to a term newborn.
Regardless of if your newborn likes or dislikes bathing, swaddled baths are universally beneficial. For newborns, some of them may have a difficult time knowing where their body is in space. They have been confined in a fetal position with boundaries for 9 months, and infants crave that deep pressure as it is familiar to them. (Think about all those kicks into your belly, bladder, ribs, etc.) The swaddle mimics some of that pressure, then add a warm basin of water, and BOOM its like your baby is back in the womb!
Here are SOME of the benefits from an OT perspective in combination with research regarding swaddled bathing in the NICU
Maintain physiological stability
Energy conservation- can support feeding and weight gain
Positive interaction with positive touch
Supportive state control- gradual transition into bathing versus abrupt change
Improved body awareness
Positive sensory regulation
How to Perform Swaddled Bathing
Start by loosely swaddling your baby before immersing them into the water up to about shoulder level. Depending on your infant tub, you might need to make some adjustments. Some tricks I will use is placing some washcloths on the bottom of the tub or around the baby to keep them from wiggling around or sinking down into the tub. Once your infant in in the tub, you can slowly take one arm or leg out at a time, complete the bathing, and then place that extremity back into the swaddle. When it comes to bathing the back, I typically sit them upright slightly or turn them to their sides and let the swaddle naturally float away while washing them. Each time when transitioning from each extremity or position, take your time, let your infant relax in the tub, and if anything perform a pause with your hands in a containment hold.
This is a sweet brief video of a swaddled bath with a preterm infant. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/Swaddle-Bath-for-Baby