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Once your little one is old enough to sit up on her own, usually between 4 and 7 months, she's really too big for a baby bathtub. One option is to graduate to a bath seat or ring. These can help keep slippery babies in an upright position, which is handy when your baby is just learning to balance on her bottom and topples easily. But bath seats and rings aren't essential. Many parents manage the precarious job of bathing babies by climbing into the tub with them.
Bath seats and rings are a bit controversial. Many argue that they aren't safe because they give a false sense of security about leaving a baby alone in the tub for a few moments to answer the phone or run to the linen closet. And older designs of bath seats, with suction cups and larger leg holes, can tip over or allow a baby to slide underwater, even with a parent close by.
Some public groups have asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban baby bath seats and rings, but the CPSC has instead been working with voluntary standards groups and manufacturers to create safer designs. And, more important, they've been working to make it clear to the public that even in a bath seat or ring, a baby should never be left without a capable adult at arm's reach. Bath seats are bathing helpers, not safety devices.
"Baby bath seats are not babysitters," says Patty Davis, spokesperson for the CPSC. "Never walk away, even to answer the phone — your child can tip over in seconds, and drown in just a few inches of water."
How to use them safely
Because newer designs are safer, Davis recommends that parents avoid older-model, secondhand bath seats (such as those with suction cups and larger leg holes). The older models' suction cups could give way, causing the seat to tip your baby face-first into the bathwater. And the larger leg holes can allow babies to "submarine," or slide underwater, where they might become trapped.
Newer models have an arm that fits over the side of the tub, but Davis notes that these don't work well on sunken tubs, and the seat can still tip or even break. Follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing the seat, she advises.
Bath rings are inflatable circles that can help your baby stay upright in bathwater. But these may require much more water in the tub to be effective. Safety groups advise keeping the water shallow to minimize the risk of babies drowning.
Most important, no matter which bath seat you choose, never be more than an arm's length away from your baby. Leaving an older, seemingly capable child with your baby isn't safe either. Davis notes that most baby drownings happen while the baby is either unattended or left in the care of an older child.
What to look for when buying
Because of the controversy surrounding bath seats and rings, few new models are on the market these days. But there are some general things to look for when buying: • Make sure the seat has a T-bar or strap that runs between your baby's legs.
• Check out display models in a store — do they seem sturdy and well-made? Might they tip easily?
• If it's a model that clamps to the side of the tub, measure the thickness of your tub's wall to make sure the clamp will fit.
• Will your baby fit into it? Bath seats come in one size, but not all babies are built alike — yours may not fit comfortably into it, or be able to be pulled from it without difficulty.
• Consider a seat that comes with spinning toys to make bath time fun.
• Watch out for any rough edges that might scrape your baby's skin when you pull her in and out of the seat.
• As with any children's product you buy or receive as a gift, check our product recall page regularly to make sure it hasn't been recalled.