Picture the scene. You have a baby who loves baths and is a real little water baby, then – BAM! – all of sudden they have what seems to be an irrational aversion to water and turn into a gremlin every bath-time. If this sounds familiar then you are not alone. It is not unusual (in fact it is extremely common) for toddlers to suddenly develop a fear of the bath. So why does this happen and what can you do when your baby hates baths all of a sudden? How do you ease them through this phase and out the other side?
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Main Reasons Why Your Baby Hates Baths all of a Sudden
There are several reasons why your baby may suddenly hate the bath including the water temperature, being overtired or suddenly being more sensitive to the noises associated with the bath. However, the most common reason is something called ablutophobia (a fear of bathing).
Ablutophobia is a fear of water and bathing and is a common toddler phobia. It tends to present itself between the ages of 1 and 2 and can last weeks or even months. A baby’s brain develops at a crazy speed, which often results in toddlers developing a hyper-awareness to various aspects of their surroundings. Their brains are constantly making new connections which means that common noises such as the hoover, hand-dryers and even toilet flushes can suddenly seem very scary to their newly aware little brain.
Their super sensitive brain sometimes just can’t cope with the sensory overload that bath-time represents, which then results in tears and tantrums. But there are several ways in which you can get your little one to love the bath again, which we will look at later on.
There are other reasons why your baby may suddenly have an aversion to their bath:
- Perhaps they recently had a mishap in the bath which resulted in them being splashed in the face, they slipped and went under briefly, or they got some shampoo in their eyes?
- Maybe you got upset about something that happened during bathtime, like a poop in the bath, and now they have a bad association with the bath.
- They may dislike the temperature changes that are an unavoidable aspect of bath-time. If there has been a sudden drop in temperature (at the start of a cold snap in winter for instance) your baby may be feeling colder than usual when getting out of the bath.
- Or maybe they don’t like the associated loud noises such as the taps running or the water draining away at the end?
- It could also simply be that your little one is overtired and bath-time is just too much for them at that point in the day, or
- Maybe you are putting them in the bath too soon after eating which may also make them feel uncomfortable and grizzly.
- Perhaps if they are a slightly older toddler (approaching the age of 2) they are realising that they can have a certain sense of control over their environment by simply saying no!
As you can see, there is no hard and fast reason why your toddler or baby hates baths all of a sudden. As with most things parenting related, there can be multiple causes, and it is up to you to trouble shoot based on your knowledge of your child. Hopefully Some of the solutions presented below will work in your situation.
Top Tips to Help Overcome Baby’s Bath Time Fears
Babies and toddlers are very sensitive to temperature so it is paramount that you ensure that both the temperature of their bath water and the temperature in the room is suitable. Invest in a thermometer that you can place in the bath and also doubles as a room thermometer.
You could also heat up their towel on the radiator before they get out of the bath to make the transition between temperatures less extreme.
Manage your own anxiety
If your baby or toddler doesn’t like the bath then it is likely to become a cause of anxiety for you too (like so many other aspects of being a new parent!). Make sure that your anxiety over their bath-time and the anticipation of their displeasure is not rubbing off on them.
Young children are surprisingly sensitive to the emotions of those around them, so it is highly likely that your little one will pick up on your anxiety, which will just fuel the fire further. Aim to be a soothing presence. Keep your voice calm and project a feeling of excitement about their bath rather than dread.
Whether it’s a toy, waterproof bath book, bath crayons or music, distracting your little one at bath-time may be the key to helping them overcome their new-found fear. If your munchkin has a favourite character from a TV show or loves certain animals, invest in a related toy that they are only allowed if they brave the bath. Or just something for pure fun, such as this 7 in 1 activity octopus, stored with a selection of other toys. For some toddlers this might be enough incentive for them to get back in the water.
Playing music while they have a splash might be another solution – encourage them to sing along with their favourite songs. Hopefully then they will begin to associate playing, singing and fun with the bath again.
Bubbles are another good idea, or bath bombs which are a particular favourite in our house! Although some babies freak out that they can’t see the bottom of the bath, which is something to keep in mind. Also, bubble baths aren’t generally recommended for younger babies.
Get in with them
What better way to prove that there is nothing to fear at bath-time than getting in the bath with them. You could imagine that you are going swimming and get your bathing costumes on, or perhaps pretend that you are on holiday and going for a paddle in the sea.
Maybe they have an older sibling that is happy to share the bath with them and will help distract them from their fear. If they see you or a sibling enjoying the bath with them it may go a long way to allaying their fear and help them to enjoy their baths again.
Re-introduce the bath gradually
If you have tried all the above and your little one is still screaming blue murder at the very mention of the bath it might be best to have a break from the bath for a short time and then re-introduce the bath gradually.
Start with a baby sponge bath. You could even do this in another room if they are getting stressed at even the thought of the bathroom. Then try encouraging to put their feet in the bath (say you’re going for a paddle) and gradually reintroduce the bath from there. It might take a few weeks (or longer), so you need to be very patient.
Don’t ignore it
It is easy to dismiss your toddlers fears about the bath as ‘just another phase’, but to them the fear is very real so you should not ignore it. If they are able to verbalise the reason for their fear then this obviously makes it easier to come up with a plan of action, but if they are too little to do that then they need lots of reassurance and soothing words to make them realise that the bath is nothing to be afraid of.
Your toddlers world revolves around you at this stage in their life so your reassurance is paramount to overcoming their fears. Trying some of the techniques above should help but don’t despair if it takes weeks or even months for your baby to start loving the bath again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my baby cry after a bath?
If your baby is perfectly happy in the bath and then has a meltdown when they get out there are a few reasons why this may be happening. One is that they simply love the bath (the warm water reminds them of the womb) and they are expressing their displeasure at having to get out. The main reason is often that they are simply cold. Make sure the room is warm and consider heating their towel and their clothes on the radiator so they are nice and cosy when they get out.
Why does my newborn hate baths?
Newborn babies often object quite vocally to having baths, which may be for several reasons. One reason might be because they are hungry or too tired. Make sure your baby is well-rested and has had a feed (but not directly before-hand as they may become uncomfortable).
Newborns are super sensitive to their surroundings so being stripped off and put in a tub of water may just be too over-stimulating for them. The change of temperature is also a common factor so make sure the water and the room are the correct temperature and that their towel and clothes are nice and warm.
Some babies may not like the sensation of floating and feel out of control. A bath pillow or support is a good way to overcome this. This funky baby bath pad will keep your baby supported while you wash them.
Why is my baby screaming in the bath?
The most common reason for babies to scream in the bath is the water temperature not being quite right. Always make sure that you use a thermometer to check that the water is the optimum temperature (between 37 and 39 degrees) and try to maintain the temperature throughout bath-time. Other common reasons are being hungry or overtired.
If you are struggling with getting the little person in your life to love the bath, try not to stress. In most instances this is a phase that they will soon grow out of and they will learn to love the bath again.
Try some of the techniques we have mentioned and above all provide your little one with a loving and reassuring presence as they work their way through their fears. Remember if your toddler or baby hates baths all of a sudden, that this too shall pass!