Why I Only Bath My Kids Once A Week

18/03/2015 13:19 | Updated 20 May 2015

Two little boys in white bath tub

How often do you give your kids a bath? Every night? Four times a week? Whenever they need one?

Here's my confession: I bath my sons, aged 10 and seven, just once a week. On a Sunday, so they don't stink to high heaven after a weekend of sweating and rolling in mud.

I made this revelation to a fellow parent who looked at me with a combination of disdain and horror.

"That can't be hygienic," she declared, before saying her 10-year-old has a bath or shower every day (it's a good job they're not on a water meter!).

"I don't care," I replied, with equal disdain.

And here's why...

This once-a-week bathtime routine wasn't always the case. When my boys were babies and until they were toddlers, they'd have a bath every night, regardless of whether they'd stepped outside the house or covered themselves with smushed peas and chocolate ice cream. Bathtime was sacrosanct.

And, of course, that's true for most babies - 60 per cent have a bath every night, spending an average of 15 minutes in the water - as part of their bedtime routine.

But when he was about five years old, I noticed my older boy's skin started to get dry and blotchy. He started scratching a lot, clawing at his legs and arms, getting agitated, distressed.

And I became scared, fearing he had eczema - because I I'd seen the damage to skin and psyche that the all-too-common yet utterly dreadful skin condition can cause.

My (no longer a baby) brother's entire life has been blighted by eczema. It covers him from head to toe and has since he was a baby.

I remember when we were little, holding him tightly as he screamed and cried as he tried to get his fingertips to his raw, weeping skin to elicit some relief.

Our mum would plaster him with coal tar, unguents and aqueous cream; she'd trim his skin-wrecking fingernails, tie on mittens at bedtime and wrap his limbs in bandages.

The GP prescribed mild steroids, like hydrocortisone cream, and then stronger steroids, like Betnovate, which our mum would slather on with no consideration for the skin-thinning side effects, which weren't really known about back in the 'Seventies.

Anything, ANYTHING to stop him scratching, anything to stop the damage he was inflicting on himself.

And none of it worked. His eczema was atopic, genetically passed down from our mum – who blamed herself despite being blameless – for the awful existence the severity of my brother's eczema had inflicted on him.

He was mocked at school – not bullied, but mocked – and the mocking made him angry, and his anger made him aggressive, and his aggression earned him a warped form of fearful respect.

So he'd get into fights - especially with anyone who took the mickey out of his skin – to prove himself, to beat the living daylights out of anyone who called him Scaly or Tomato Face.

He bunked off school when it came to P.E. lessons because he couldn't bear anyone to see his inflamed, shedding skin in the changing rooms. Then he'd compensate by running and running and running, miles and miles, every night and weekend. Running away from the horror of his skin.

But it was always there, a permanent, itching, scaly omni-presence that tormented every aspect of his life.

He couldn't sleep for scratching, so his GP prescribed anti-depressants to calm him down.

The anti-depressants turned him into a non-functioning zombie, so he lost his job.

He had several spells in hospital, spending weeks in plastic tents where no allergen could touch him, and the bliss that brought made him feel normal.

But when he left, because the NHS won't let you live in a sterile tent forever, the eczema would return with a vengeance.

And when that happened, the only way he could find respite was in booze and fags, which sucked out whatever moisture he had left in his sandpaper skin and started the whole itch-scratch-relief-bleed-itch cycle all over again.

Just writing about it makes me feel helplessly sad. It's a million times worse for my brother, who still lives with the torment all day, every day.

So when my first born son showed those early signs of the skin disease that defined and destroyed my little brother's life it scared the life out of me.

It was bad enough seeing my brother go through what he did: I doubted whether I'd be able to handle seeing my own child go through such distress, just as my mum had to do with her youngest son.

And the first thing I did was stop his daily baths.

"Each day, without so much as a drop of water touching my son, I monitored his skin and moisturised it with E45, which his dermis seemed to soak up like a sponge.

At the beginning, his skin was papery dry on his arms and shins, and chapped in the cracks of his elbows and the backs of his knees.

But within just a couple of days, the inflammation had calmed down and his skin started to soften.

Granted, this may well have been a film of grime or a build up of the E45, but I figured whatever it was, it was acting as a barrier to stop nasties getting into the cracks in his skin to attack his immune system beneath.

I also noticed a change in his personality: he was less tetchy, less twitchy, less tired, less highly strung. All in the space of a couple of days.

After a week, his skin felt soft and smooth and it was alabaster white. It was time to give him a bath. Not a bath with bubbles and perfume, but an oily slick of a bath, made soft and moisturising with a few heavy glugs of Oilatum.

That set his new bathtime routine, and of his younger brother, too, until I was sure eczema would never afflict their skins in the way it had blighted their uncle's.

And it didn't. Or hasn't. Of course, I watch and stroke my sons' skin, looking for the tell-tale rawness, feeling for the parched paperyness that indicates eczema.

So how often should you bathe your kids?

Margaret Cox, chief ­executive of the National Eczema ­Society, has said that as the amount of water we use to clean ourselves has increased, so has the incidence of eczema.

In the Forties, the condition affected four per cent of ­newborns. Today, it is 25 per cent of babies and one in five children.

Margaret said: "People don't realise ­bathing in just ­simple water can dry out the skin and I don't think many ­people appreciate how damaging soap can be.

"We should take ­bathing back to cleaning rather than seeing it as some great experience, as I don't think we are doing our skin any good.

"Very small babies do not get very dirty other than around their mouths and in the nappy area, so top and ­tailing with a cloth and warm water every day plus a couple of baths a week should be ­adequate. Older children should be bathed when they are dirty.

"If there is any predisposition in the family to eczema, asthma or hay fever, I would be inclined to use an emollient bath oil, too, and to avoid all soap."

And Professor Aziz Sheikh, who chaired an allergy and respiratory research group at Edinburgh University, said: "Potentially, bathing does increase risk because it will remove some of the ­surface oils from the skin.

"That seems to be important not only for exacerbating the eczema, but, potentially, for increasing the risk of other allergic conditions."

Is it hygienic, this lack of bathing? As I said to my friend: I don't care. Their skin is soft and supple, their personalities happy and calm. Even if they do whiff a little!

How often do you give your kids a bath?

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