Why your baby hates the bath and how to get them to start LOVING it!
Bath time can mean a lot of crying — it can also be something you and your baby both enjoy.
In this post, you’ll find 16 tips (that really work!) for keeping babies aged newborn to 12 months comfortable and happy throughout bath time.
Use the table of contents below to select your baby’s age.
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Why your 0-3 month old baby hates the bath
Let’s face it. Your newborn preferred the bathtub in your womb.
If they’re not enjoying bath time, it’s probably because:
- They’re cold… which happens easily if you don’t have some tricks up your sleeve. (We’ll get to those next).
- They don’t like the abrupt transitions of getting undressed and being put down.
- Their arms are flailing.
- The bathtub is uncomfortable.
Let’s fix this!
Related: How to Survive Life with a Newborn
How to get your 0-3 month old baby to start LOVING the bath
Think baby spa.
- Lower the lights in the room. Do your best to not have your baby staring up at a bright light—at least until you solve your bath time woes.
- No loud or anxious voices. The vibe should be calm.
- Consider playing calming music or even white noise.
Make sure the bath support itself is comfy.
Newborns, in particular, aren’t going to like hard plastic.
You can buy this giant sponge to make any bathtub softer. Just place it on top of whatever setup you already have.
We were obsessed with this thing and used it for every bath for several months.
It was so cozy that Aden regularly fell asleep!
#3 is actually my favorite bath time tip for newborns…
Cover your baby with a large burp cloth and continuously pour warm water over them.
This helps keep them warm and also takes care of the flailing arms.
This tip was the difference between Aden loving and hating his baths in the early weeks.
Try using a space heater.
Cold air is the enemy and might be the reason your baby hates the bath.
This Lasko heater is great and often goes on sale for less than 25 bucks. Check the price here.
You can use it to heat the bathroom/kitchen before bath time.
Or, you can warm up your baby’s room to reduce post-bath crying.
This one’s probably obvious, but, it’s arguably the most important…
The right water temperature can easily make or break bath time.
It should be lukewarm — not nearly as warm as you’d make your own bath, but not too cool either.
Get the water temperature just right before undressing the baby to minimize the time in the cold air.
Next, we’re going to talk about what to do when a slightly older baby hates the bath.
Some of this may be helpful even if your baby is under 3 months.
You can also click here to skip ahead to the list of bath time products I love.
Why your 3-12 month old baby hates the bath
Now that you’re out of the newborn phase and your baby is becoming increasingly aware of their surroundings, it’s normal for new fears and dislikes to start interfering with bath time.
At this age, the most likely reasons that your baby hates the bath are:
- The air is chilly and they get cold either before or during bath time.
- They’re afraid of the faucet or the bathroom fan.
- The tub is uncomfortable or they’d rather be in a different position.
- They are already tired and cranky.
- They get bored and haven’t formed the positive association that bath time can be fun.
- They associate bath time with something negative like bedtime.
- The water is too cold or too hot.
- Their skin is sensitive due to eczema or other conditions.
There’s also a small possibility that there are sensory issues at play.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything under the sun and your baby still hates the bath, be sure to bring it up with your pediatrician.
In all likelihood, this is just a phase (a common one, at that), and your baby will grow out of it.
All of that said, here are some tips and tricks to try…
How to get your 3-12 month old baby to start LOVING the bath
Before submerging your baby in the bath, wet their body to get them acclimated.
Dip their feet in the tub and splash a little water on their legs and torso.
This started to become necessary to avoid screaming when Aden was around 4 months old.
It REALLY helped to get things off on the right foot (no pun intended!)…
Don’t be afraid to switch from the sink to the bathtub. (Or vise versa).
We made the transition from sink bath to tub bath at around 3.5 months, but feel free to do it at any time.
Try doing bath time at a different time of the day.
Make sure your baby is well-rested and in a good mood.
(Once they start to like bath time, you can switch it back to the schedule you prefer).
Let your baby play in the tub WITHOUT water to get used to it.
You can even give them a bucket of warm water to play with.
Once they form a positive association, try adding a small amount of water to the tub. Gradually increase the amount of water in the tub each time you do this.
Consider that your baby might be afraid of the water coming out of the faucet (or the sprayer, if you have one).
Aden went through this phase for about a month.
The only way to keep him from panicking was to fill the bath before bringing him into the room and make sure we didn’t turn on the faucet in his presence.
Get in the tub with them!
This helped us tremendously when Aden suddenly started hating the bath at 11 months old.
Try a different bath support or position.
If your baby can’t sit up on his own yet, I highly recommend this bath support below.
Alternatively, if your baby isn’t enjoying lying down, it may be time to sit them up to make it easier to play.
You can buy a rubber mat to make the tub less slippery.
The one below got amazing reviews.
Get your baby really interested in a (water-safe) toy before bath time. Then ride the wave of excitement about the toy and transition it into the bath.
Place your baby in the (already filled) tub as a continuation of playtime.
Keep the focus on the toy.
Don’t turn on the faucet or start washing him so that it’s as much like normal playtime as possible.
Check out the 7 best mold-free bath toys.
Have your baby watch you ‘bathe’ a doll or toy.
Talk to them in a soothing voice and show how happy the doll is to be clean and having fun in the water.
Make it clear that this bath is for the doll, not your baby.
The reverse psychology may pique your baby’s interest to want to join in the fun.
Improve your baby’s relationship with water by introducing water play at other points in the day.
If you suspect that the water itself is what your baby hates about bath time, this will be especially helpful.
There are lots of ways to engage in water play, but here are a few ideas:
- Fill a large pot with water and give your baby a spoon to stir it. Throw some toys in there too if you want.
- Get a water table to play with outside. (So much fun once they get the hang of it).
- Google “water sensory bins” and try one of the zillion ideas that come up in search.
Lastly, speed is your friend!
Most likely, your baby hating the bath is just a phase. Accept this and try to get them in and out as quickly as possible.
Longer more enjoyable baths will be in your baby’s future!
Other helpful bath time tips
Your kneeling pad makes a great post-bath time toweling spot!
It’s cushioned so it’s comfortable for your baby, plus it gives your back a break.
I spread out Aden’s towel on the pad and then lie him down on top and wrap him up.
It’s really squishy and of great quality.
Have changing supplies ready and waiting!
I lay everything out on the bed beforehand so I can speedily put on Aden’s diaper, apply lotion, and get him dressed after a bath.
Everything we use (and love) for bath time!
Tub (I can’t imagine a better one!)
Giant sponge to put on top of tub (extra padding for newborns)
Amazing smelling baby soap
Washcloths (actually kitchen towels that are the SOFTEST possible things)
Bath set: rinser, elbow rest, kneeler, spout cover—I adore this entire set!
Straining cups for literally endless hours of play
Tub caddy to hold toys
Hooded towel (amazing quality)
Body lotion for after bath
Do you have a toddler between 1 and 4 years old?
Email yourself this seriously great list of toddler stocking stuffer ideas to save for Christmas 2023.
Related to baby care:
- 60 Baby Hacks (lesser-known tips and tricks to make life so much easier)
- When to Stop Swaddling (and why it’s a SIDS risk to wait)
- When Can your Baby Safely Sleep with a Lovey? (see what the evidence says)
- Letting your Baby Nap in a Dockatot or Snuggle Me (why it’s a SIDS risk even if you’re watching)
Final thoughts on reducing crying during bath time:
If you think that your baby hates the bath, there’s hope!
If your baby is between 0 and 3 months, focus on keeping them warm before, during, and after the bath.
If your baby is between 3-12 months, try to diagnose the problem and do your best to troubleshoot using the tips and tricks on this list.
Most importantly, follow your baby’s lead! The nature of bath time changes as your baby changes so just go with it.