Tips From the Trenches

Murky Waters


Here's one part of new motherhood you might not have thought about: what to do if your baby poops in the tub. As unpleasant as the prospect may be, it's wise to have a game plan, says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D. "It's common for babies, especially newborns, to have a bowel movement in the bath," she says. "The water is warm and soothing, which causes the intestinal muscles to relax."

Shu recommends paying attention to any sort of routine your baby might have in regard to his elimination habits and timing his bath accordingly. "Right after he has a bowel movement is often a good time," she says, "though if your baby poops eight times a day, there might not be any right time."

She also advises not putting him in the bath right after mealtime. "Newborns have something called gastro-colic reflex, which means that as soon as they eat, something comes out the other end." So what should you do if your baby lets loose in the tub? Follow these steps:

1. Stay calm. Getting upset may set your baby off, making a tense situation worse.

2. Get the baby out. Wrap him in a towel to keep him warm. Lay him next to you or place him in his crib or another safe place while you tend to the tub.

3. Scoop the poop. If the bowel movement is fairly firm (not likely with many newborns), you may be able to use a cup to remove and then flush it. If not, use paper towels to wipe up the mess. If it's very runny, let it drain out with the water.

4. Scrub the tub. Warm water and soap will do the trick. Or use a disinfectant.

5. Re-bathe the baby. Make it fast in case more action is on the way. (Shu says that a complete re-bathe may not be necessary, depending on how quickly you retrieve the baby and how messy the bowel movement; if you don't re-bathe, clean him with a wipe or give him a quick sponge bath.)

If you're concerned about your baby getting sick, the chances of that happening are slim. "Even if he were to swallow some of the bath water, the quantity would likely be so small that it wouldn't be a problem," Shu explains. "Plus, his stomach acids would probably kill at least some of the germs." If your baby develops a fever, vomiting or diarrhea, call your pediatrician.

Find more tips for taking care of baby from head to toe.