From the Consumer Reports Baby Bathtub Buying Guide
Most baby tubs are small, portable, and made of lightweight plastic, so you can put them just about anywhere. Some are designed to rest inside or over a sink, while others are used inside an adult-sized bathtub.
There are a lot of different tubs on the market, but you don't really need something super fancy. A good, basic tub should have rounded corners and edges throughout, and should cradle your baby to keep her safely in place.
No matter where you set up, the most important thing to remember is to stay with your baby and keep an eye on her at all times so she never slips under the water. Can't reach the organic baby wash you just bought? Forgot the towels in the other room? Just pick up the baby (she'll be slippery!) while you get what you need. Never leave your baby alone in the tub. And don't ever pick up a portable tub with your baby inside.
When you start shopping, remember that just about any tub you buy will be awkward to use at first, mainly because bathing a squirming baby—who might be startled by temperature changes and by being put into even very shallow water—is daunting for even the most experienced parent. In other words, you want to get the job done quickly.
For a baby 6 months or younger who has limited head and neck control, buy a bathtub that has a contoured design, allowing a baby who can't sit up yet to relax in a slightly upright position. Many come with an internal sling that cradles a newborn in the water. A removable mesh or fabric cradle means your baby can't move around too much, keeping him secure so you can gently wash him. A mildew-resistant foam lining is also a plus. It's softer for a baby's head and body than hard plastic. To prevent mildew and soap-scum buildup on any baby bathtub, clean it and let it dry fully after each use.
At about 6 months, when your baby can sit up, she'll probably be too big to be bathed in an infant tub and you can move her to a bigger plastic child's tub that fits into your regular tub. (We recommend using a nonskid rubber mat, even under an infant or child's tub, to keep it from moving around.)
There are "convertible" tubs on the market designed for newborns to toddlers (up to about 25 pounds). Some convertible models also include the removable slings mentioned above, which you can take out when your baby can sit up unassisted.
Another type has a crotch post to keep your baby from slipping forward in the water. When this type is outgrown, your older toddler can move to a regular bathtub filled with a small amount of water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 6 be watched carefully while in the bathtub.
If you're short on space, you can buy an infant tub that folds. But keep in mind that you'll be using it for only about six months. There are some models on the market that collapse completely, which is handy for travel. If you're considering one of those, set it up to make sure it's sturdy before you put your baby in it.
A "whirlpool spa" might seem cute but you don't need anything that elaborate. Some of them come with a shower head nozzle that activates with a button—a good idea because keeping water running is a safety risk. But a simple cup of water to rinse your baby off will do just fine. Don't buy a shower head with a hose that attaches directly to a faucet because it poses a scalding hazard. And don't buy an inflatable bathtub, bath seat, ring, or bathing bucket even if your pediatrician or friends recommend it.
You might also see infant tubs that come with stands designed to save parents from the back pain that might come with bending over to wash a baby. We think the safest place to wash your baby is in an infant tub that fits in a sink or bathtub, or on the floor.
Expect your baby to protest the first couple of times. After that, she'll probably grow to enjoy bath time—and so will you. But remember, when your baby is in the bath, keep a hand on her.
Here are a few types of tubs and bathing devices you'll see on the market:
Basic Infant Tubs
Most basic tubs have a sloped interior so the baby can lay back at an angle (like they do in an infant car seat). Many are lined with foam, which helps prevent slipping and allows a baby who can't yet sit up to relax in a slightly upright position.
Tubs with Mesh Slings
Many tubs come with internal nylon mesh support slings to cradle newborns. On most models the sling can be removed when you no longer need it.
Some fabric slings have rods that support them. We think the rods might become uncomfortable when your baby kicks his legs or moves from side to side. Other slings are like hammocks and don't have rods. Look for those.
These tubs are designed to grow with your child. They are secure enough for an infant (some come with slings) but large enough to hold an older child.
With this type of tub, babies can be bathed in a reclining position from birth to about 6 months. Then, from about 6 to 24 months (possibly longer, if you and your baby both like the tub), they can sit upright. Be sure to check the maximum weight specifications.
Sink or Tub Sling Inserts
Usually fabric covered, they're akin to bouncy seats for infants. The fabric is stretched over a frame and the sling helps you prop up the baby in an inclined position while bathing. They don't include a bathtub.
Collapsible to use in Adult Tub
Another variation is a tub that folds up, and is designed to be used in a regular bathtub. It might be great for travel but we recommend trying one to make sure it's stable before buying one. To make sure that a fold-able tub doesn't leak, try it first with a small amount of water.
Collapsible to use in Sink
Others unfold to become completely flat. They snap into place (like a little cradle) when you're ready for bath time, and are designed to fit into a sink, which provides structure to hold the tub in place. They can't be used in a bathtub for adults.
These tubs include a battery-operated unit that creates swirling water and bubbles. Some include a mini-shower nozzle that lets you rinse your baby with fresh water from a reservoir. A spa is not something your baby will miss, so you'll have to decide if you think he'll enjoy it enough to justify the expense. Your baby might even find the swirling and bubbling to be disconcerting. The shower feature is safe because you push a button on the shower head to activate it, eliminating the drowning hazard associated with continuously running water. And the reservoir eliminates the risk of scalding associated with shower heads with hoses that attach directly to a faucet . The reservoir lets you rinse your baby with fresh water rather than using a cup to scoop up water from the bath, but we think a cup is a perfectly fine rinsing tool.
You might see tubs on the market that look like miniature bathtubs for adults. But they shouldn't be used for an infant. Some online reviewers say they're satisfied using them with toddlers, while others think they're too "slippery" and don't offer enough support.
A baby bathtub provides an appropriate place for your child to get clean, splash around, and play with toys. Just remember to use only a small amount of water and to stay next to your baby with a hand on him at all times. When bath time is over, empty the tub immediately. A baby or child can drown in as little as one inch of water. Here are some baby-bathtub features to consider:
Contoured Design with Padded Lining
In lieu of a sling, a contoured design (with a crotch post and/or side supports) is a must for keeping a baby from sliding around too much. Most padding is thin but more comfortable than just hard plastic.
Drain with an Attached Plug
This can make the tub easier to empty than tipping over a tub filled with water. But check to see that it's easy to plug and unplug.
Some bathtub models have a drain plug or temperature strip that changes color when the water is too hot for a baby. Others have digital readouts. You can also buy separate temperature indicators. Indicators can be useful, but it's best to double check the temperature by testing the water with your forearm before putting your baby into the tub or rinsing him off. It should feel comfortably warm. Your forearm is more sensitive than your hand, so it will give you a better sense of whether the water temperature is in a good range for your baby's sensitive skin.
A few plastic tubs fold in half for easier storage. Some online reviewers have complained about them leaking or not being able to hold a baby who is more than a few weeks old.
Hook or Handle for Easy Storage
Some models have a useful handle or hook on the back to hang the tub up for draining or storage. But you can also simply flip over any infant tub in your regular tub to let it drain and dry before you store it.
Smooth, Overhanging Rim
This feature makes it much easier to carry a water-filled tub without your baby in it, of course. It also prevents you from scraping your baby's skin as you put him in the tub or take him out.
Some models have a nonskid surface on the bottom to keep the tub from sliding in a regular bathtub.
4moms This small, Pennsylvania-based company is named for four real moms, actually five moms, but they say “4Moms” makes a better name. They were the original focus group, and ever since that first meeting, they’ve been contributing their insights and expertise to the company’s products. The company makes infant bathtubs and the mamaRoo baby seat. Available in specialty juvenile products shops and on the company’s website.
Summer Infant The founder of this company invented the first baby bouncer seat for his new daughter in 1985. He sold the company in 2001, and since then, the company has made baby care products such as bathtubs, nursery products, health and grooming kits, travel gear, and more. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold and online.
Dangerous Bath ProductsConsumer Reports safety experts advise against using infant bath seats and inflatable bath tubs. Here's why.
Infant Bath Seats
They're designed for use in a regular tub if your baby is able to sit up. But we don't recommend them because they present safety issues and can give parents a false sense of security, leading them to think they can turn their back on their baby for a short time.
From 1983 through November 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in the U.S. there were 174 reported deaths involving bath seats and 300 reported nonfatal bath-seat incidents. Many of the deaths involved babies left unattended while bathing.
In the spring of 2010, the CPSC also issued a new federal standard for infant bath seats. It found, then, that "no baby bath seat currently on the market complies with the new mandatory standard."
The CPSC says that the new federal requirements for infant bath seats "enhance the current ASTM voluntary standard by adding stricter stability requirements to prevent the bath seat from tipping over, tighter leg-opening requirements to prevent children from slipping through the leg openings, and a larger permanent warning label alerting parents and caregivers that bath seats are not safety devices and that infants should never be left unattended in a bath seat."
Inflatable tubs are made to fit inside a regular bathtub to give your baby a padded space to bathe in. We don't recommend them because they can be dangerous. Parents might accidentally place one into a regular bathtub with water in it, allowing the whole thing to tip over. Inflatable tubs can also collapse.
We haven't tested bath buckets but we do have concerns that they could tip over, especially if placed on a pedestal. At least one model offers a pedestal as an option. Also, like any household pail, bathing buckets like this one can pose a hazard to toddlers if left unattended with even a small amount of water in it. Babies can topple head first into a bucket and drown, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission often cautions. Safety issues aside, we think it would be hard to thoroughly wash a baby in a bucket, and we're not convinced they are practical or superior to conventional baby bath tubs.
You can find shower nozzles with hoses that attach directly to a faucet. We don't recommend them because leaving water running is a safety risk. And there's the possibility of a sudden temperature change that could result in scalding. We think a cup is just fine for rinsing your baby. But if you want a shower head feature, get one that draws water from a reservoir and has a button to operate the spray.
How to Give Baby a Bath Safely•
Never leave your baby unattended during bath time, not even for a second, even when you're just filling the tub with water. Plan ahead; make sure you have everything on hand before you start the bath. You don't want to dash off for a washcloth or towel while your baby is in the tub. If he can't sit up on his own yet, always keep a hand on him at bath time. And don't pick up the bathtub once the baby is in it.
• To play it safe, stay within arm's reach of your child whenever he's around water, even when he's in a standard or toddler tub.
• Fill the tub with as little water as possible. Two inches is a good amount. Place the baby bathtub on a flat, level surface that won't allow it to slip and makes it easy for you to handle your child. Don't add more water while your baby is in the tub, and never put the baby bathtub in a larger tub that is filled with water because it can float around and tip. If you're using an infant tub inside your bathtub, make sure the drain is open.
• Be careful to avoid scalding water. The water should feel warm, not hot. Before you put your baby into the tub, test the temperature with your forearm. Don't rely on a tub with a temperature indicator, such as a drain plug that changes color to indicate too hot, too cold, and just right. If you're using a thermometer with a readout, baby bathwater should be between 90 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But again, use your forearm as your main guide.
• If you need to leave the bathroom, take your baby with you. Don't rely on older children to watch the baby for you. If your phone rings, let it. If there's a knock on the door, ignore it. Make that rule as stringent as strapping your baby into her car seat every time you drive.
• When using a baby bathtub in a sink or regular tub, always turn the hot water off first and watch out for hot metal spigots. Get a cover for the bathtub's spout to protect your child from its heat-conducting metal and hard edges. Some covers are soft plastic and come in the shape of an animal. Others are inflatable plastic. Swoosh tub water around with your hand so that any hot spots even out. To play it safe, reduce the setting of your hot-water heater to 120° F. An infant's skin burns much more easily than an adult's.
• Use washcloths instead of sponges. Either one will end up in your baby's mouth, but washcloths are safer because tiny pieces of sponge can easily break off and become a choking hazard. And washcloths can go through a washer and dryer so they get really clean, while sponges have to air dry and can harbor harmful bacteria.
• Always empty the bathtub immediately after bath time. A baby or child can drown in less than an inch of water. And curious toddlers might go back in the bathroom when you aren't looking.
• When your baby graduates to a regular bathtub, attach rubber strips to the bottom to prevent slipping. Or use a bath mat that can be secured to the bottom of the tub with suction cups, and check that it is securely attached before you put the baby in. Keep in mind the underside of these mats can stay damp, attracting mold and mildew, so you should take the mat out and scrub it thoroughly each time you clean the bathtub.
• Remind your partner, your baby's grandparents, and any other caregivers about these safety tips. Better yet, if they're new to bath time, ask them not to give your baby a bath while you're away, if possible. They can always use baby wipes and washcloths to handle any mess.