We used to do the “smell her head” test.
This was a test where, in moments when my daughter probably needed a bath but maybe could get away without one for another day, my husband and I would touch our noses to her scalp and sniff it.
If it smelled distinctly of sweat (or something worse), OK, fine, we’d bathe her. If not, great, we could do something other than crouch over a tiny bathtub and try to calm a kid who’d freak out any time she’d hear the word “shampoo”.
While I believe our test was scientifically sound, you probably want to know what real medical professionals say about how frequently you should bathe your child. Good news: Kids don’t need to be scrubbed down all that often. In fact, you’re probably over-bathing them. Here’s an age-by-age guide:
Three times a week during your baby’s first year is probably enough, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Bathing your infant any more than that can dry out their skin.
“Your infant doesn’t need much bathing if you wash the diaper area thoroughly during diaper changes,” the AAP states.
It’s also fine to “spot clean” whatever’s dirty. Pay particular attention to the mouth area and anywhere there are skin folds (AKA what we referred to as “the place where old milk goes to die”).
At this age, it’s fine to bathe your kid every night if it’s part of your routine (some parents find baths to be the great tantrum diffuser), but be careful about overusing soap.
If your kid has dry, sensitive skin, dermatologist Scott Norton recommends washing them with a mild soap only once a week. On the other days, you can simply have them soak or rinse off in a lukewarm, plain water bath.
The American Academy of Dermatology states that children in this age group need a bath:
- At least once or twice a week.
- When they get dirty, such as playing in the mud.
- After being in a pool, lake, ocean or other body of water.
- When they get sweaty or have body odour.
- As often as directed by a dermatologist if getting treated for a skin disease.
So basically, use your best judgment. The academy also says that children ages six to 11 generally only have to shampoo their hair “once or twice a week until puberty starts”. Though children with “dry, curly or African American hair only need to shampoo their hair once every 7 to 10 days”.
Tweens and teens
Once puberty starts, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that kids shower or take a bath daily (and any time after swimming or sweating heavily), and wash their face twice a day to remove oil and dirt.