Only what you need for your baby. Really. (OK – and some fantastic things you don’t that are pretty cool.)
You’re going to need some kind of bath solution besides stepping into the shower with tiny, slippery Murgatroyd in your arms, so yes, you will need an infant bath tub. What you definitely do not need is one of those big plastic ones that are impossible to store and have incomprehensible contours and anti-slip areas and are just as hard as your current porcelain – unless, of course, you buy the padded inserts and accessories that you will also have no place to store.
Why do you need a tub at all? Well, infants are fragile, can’t hold up their heads, get cold easily, and, like the rest of us, are slippery when wet. You could wing it without a tub, but I think this is one area where having some help will make your day less anxious.
If you skip the big plastic tub (you totally should) and turn away your friends who are trying to pawn theirs off on you, you have two options: soft, tub-like containers that will fit in your kitchen sink (or your bath sink if you’re lucky enough to have a true basin) or what are basically giant sponges. We used both – the soft tub first, then the sponge – and they both filled the bill.
I was thrilled to discover the Puj tub when I was eight months pregnant. It’s made of squishy material that will absorb the water’s warmth, keeps your infant sitting up at a recline so her head won’t be in the water and unfolds to store flat. It was perfect for our space-limited studio: I hung it from the pot rack between baths.
The Puj folds together easily and clasps into place with strong magnets, no hassle, no fuss. The only down side is that, because it’s flexible, it doesn’t stay upright in every sink. Ours was too big to brace it on the sides, but setting it in a giant pasta pot did the trick. Not classy but very effective. If the Puj appeals to you, try it out in your sink before the return window expires to see if it fits properly.
Another alternative I considered but haven’t personally used is the Prince Lionheart washPOD, which is basically a soft-surfaced bucket shaped for infant comfort. (Please don’t plan on putting your infant in a real bucket. Seriously. Don’t.) The WashPod’s sides keep toppling infants upright and the babies can truly bathe (vs. sitting slightly submerged). It’s not as space-efficient outside bath time as the Puj, but I’ve heard really good things. You can use it in a sink or set it in your bath (with your older child at the other end – as long as there’s a strict “don’t kick the bucket” policy in place.)
We traveled with Astrid when she was three months old and I was a little stumped about the whole bathing on the road thing. We weren’t going to schelp the Puj along on the plane, so we just winged it off to Colorado and figured we’d sort something out when we got there. Turns out my handy aunt had it in the bag: a heavy bath towel on the bottom of her plastic jacuzzi tub worked fine. Fill the tub up just to the edge of the towel and Astrid happily splashed on her back. This is basically the sponge solution and what my aunt used with her kids back in the eighties.
When we got home, I discovered that you can still get the sponge she used. You don’t see it anywhere on What to Get for Baby lists because it costs $7. Also: super awesome, even in a porcelain tub. Just run some hot water into the tub to warm the cold surface up, empty it and run baby-temperature warm water in and let the sponge soak it up. (Please don’t forget to squish the sponge down to confirm its temperature before putting Baby on it: it will absorb and retain the too-hot water you ran in first if you’re not careful.)
You can start out with the sponge solution and skip the infant tub if you’re brave enough to sort out infant-in-regular-tub from the start. (I wasn’t quite.) Also, remember that sponges can get kind of gunky over time if they’re not dried out every day. (At $7, I didn’t feel bad about ordering another one after a few months.)
Another great sponge with a little more shape and heft is the Leachco Safer Bather. It’s got more of an indentation for Baby’s bottom plus more head support, but it’s also bigger, harder to get dry and Baby will outgrow it sooner. Again though: at $16, you’re not breaking the bank to cover those first few months of bathing.
So there you go. Problem solved. Now all you have to do is figure out how to actually bathe your newborn! More on that later.