Babies are Gross

Babies are gross. Straight up. This is not a choice they are making (yet), but they are. They poop and then sit in it until someone notices. They drool constantly and with great relish. They put anything they can pick up into their mouth. They vomit on themselves constantly. They are basically that friend you all had in college that couldn’t handle his booze.

As a parent, part of your solemn duty to care for your baby is to keep him  clean. This is more of a constant affair than you might think. Your baby has no notion of what it is to be clean and will not care in the slightest that you’ve been taking measures to help him get to that point. Here are the major areas you’ll need to watch for and some tips, techniques and equipment that will help you get there.


Drool is an omnipresent thing. Your baby should never be without a bib. We tend to associate a bib with protection from foodstuffs for clothing, but that’s a pretty narrow interpretation. A bib is just general protection from grossness. And protection of the clothing itself isn’t a big deal. You’re going to need to wash baby clothes all the time. Worrying about how clean and sturdy you can make them overtime is a bit of a losing battle. What you should be worried about is keeping wet cloth away from your baby’s skin as much as possible.

If your baby is anything like Joshua, he can soak the front of a shirt several inches in all directions away from his face in a matter of minutes. If you don’t change his clothes then, you’ve got a baby with wet cloth on his chest for the rest of the day. Your skin likes to be dry, so a wet onesie is not optimal for your baby. Everyone loves to tout the fabled softness and pristine nature of a baby’s skin, but this is a bit of a myth. Baby skin is indeed soft, but it is far from blemish-free. You’ll find many scratches from little finger nails and plenty of little red bumps resulting from irritation from dampness rubbing against skin. Some of this will be inevitable, but it’s important to try and minimize the impact.

So, keep a stack of bibs on hand (Joshua has something like 30, and we go through at least 3 every day just during the time of day that he’s not at daycare) and try to have burp clothes on hand around your house as well. These are useful also for the next bit.

A note on bibs: There are bibs, and then there are bibs. When you are picking a bib, try to go for one that seems sturdy. Many bibs are a single layer of standard cloth. A baby will wet that in under two minutes and the wet bib will immediately begin to create wet clothes. Those are only good for blocking a food mess, and are not meant for long-term wearing. Some bibs clearly have a couple layers of cloth with some sort of magical absorbent layer inside them. Go for these to protect from drool as they will provide protection from your baby’s Face Faucet, which is a term Janelle came up with and is, for the record, hilarious.

Spit Up

Calling it vomit just doesn’t fit. Vomit has more verve behind it. Spit up is just something babies do. Be worried if it’s large amounts for a prolonged period of time (or if there are tell-tale things like blood in the spit-up), but otherwise, it’s just par for the course. Bibs are useful for blocking spit-up from getting on baby clothes, but a burp cloth is going to be better because then you don’t have spit up just hanging out and drying inches from your baby’s face.

It’s not that spit-up is some dangerous substance to avoid, but it is nasty. Depending on when it happens, your baby is basically just producing spoiled milk. It will smell delightful. So, having a cloth to wipe it away instead of having it sit on your baby’s bib to ambush anyone who might pick him up later is a good plan.

Also, it will be a fairly regular thing that you baby will spit up, but not with enough force or volume to have that spit-up leave his mouth. So, you’ll notice the next time he opens his mouth he has a bunch of little white curdled milk chunks just chilling in there. That’s when you get a little invasive with the burp cloth to wipe out his mouth. It can’t taste good. Help the little dude out.

Burp clothes are of course useful when burping your baby to cover your lap and his lap while burping after feeding, when spit up is most likely. However, it’s also useful during playtime right after a feed. If you’re going to lay your baby down and play and your baby is apt to wiggle around or roll over and put pressure on his tummy, making spit up more likely, it’s a good plan to have a burp cloth under him. This protects whatever play surface he’s laying on, as that thing will get gross enough over time as it is (see: Drool).

#1 and #2

By and large, diapers have this covered. They are absorbant enough to handle most things that your baby can throw at them—but this is pretty much the pee department. I’m not going to cover handling when to change a dirty diaper, that’s pretty obvious. Babies aren’t too subtle about pooping. But a wet diaper is something that can be overlooked and can result in a very unhappy baby. It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to change your baby basically after they wake up from every nap. But, with an older baby that might not be napping as much, just try and get a good sense of what a saturated diaper feels like from the outside. If you give a poke to the diaper’s front, you should feel a certain amount of give. If you’re meeting a lot of resistance, you have a wet diaper. Along the same lines as clearing up drool, you want to make sure to change a wet diaper. You’re not going to want a baby with irritated skin around those sensitive areas.

One item to cover for a dirty diaper is containment failure. Since your baby will be sitting in all sorts of weird positions, sometimes that will mean that poop doesn’t just go down to hang out in the diaper. It may be forced up or out. Most often, it will be forced up and you’ll be left with a baby with a back covered in poop. Adorable, I know. This is something that Janelle finds super gross (I do, too, of course). It is, for some reason, more gross than washing off poop that gets on you directly. It likely goes without saying if you know how to do laundry, but wash poop out of your baby’s clothes as soon as possible and get some stain treatment on there posthaste.

And now to switch gears to the universal cleaning measure, the “nuke the site from orbit” of baby cleanliness:


Bathtime is something that we used to do with Joshua every couple of days, but we’ve since made it a daily occurrence. This is because Joshua began to output so much drool it became necessary, but it also makes a nice capstone to his day. Every night now, he has a bath, gets changed and ready for bed, we read a small story or portion of a story to him, and he goes to bed. The bath is a great event that gets him prepped for the notion he’s going to sleep soon.

There are lots of ways you can tackle bathtime, and it’s totally up to your preferences. For us, I get into the bath and fill it up to a baby-friendly level. Then Janelle hands Joshua to me and I hold him in the bath while she washes him down with a washcloth. With more of an immersion in the water, we’re able to keep Joshua from getting cold, and because I’m holding him the whole time it’s bathtime/playtime, so we don’t end up with an angry, fussy baby before we even try to get him dressed for bed.

NB: When washing a baby, treat him like a tiny, morbidly obese person. In short, you need to wash between the fat folds. There will be all sorts of little fuzz and nernies that will get in there. A major spot to get is the neck. “But, Michael, my baby doesn’t have a neck! His head just transitions into shoulders!” I understand what you are saying, but your baby does have a neck, it’s just buried under chub. A fun trick to get your baby to expose his neck is to take a washcloth and wipe at his nose, just over his upper lip. Your baby will likely lift his head to avoid the cloth and expose his neck, that’s when you can strike because, man, baby neck gets pretty gross.

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