When you start shopping, remember that just about any tub you buy will be awkward to use at first, mainly because bathing a squirming baby--who might be startled by temperature changes and by being put into even very shallow water--is daunting for even the most experienced parent. In other words, you want to get the job done quickly.
For a baby 6 months or younger who has limited head and neck control, buy a bathtub that has a contoured design, allowing a baby who can't sit up yet to relax in a slightly upright position. Many come with an internal sling that cradles a newborn in the water. A removable mesh or fabric cradle means your baby can't move around too much, keeping him secure so you can gently wash him. A mildew-resistant foam lining is also a plus. It's softer for a baby's head and body than hard plastic. To prevent mildew and soap-scum buildup on any baby bathtub, clean it and let it dry fully after each use.
At about 6 months, when your baby can sit up, she'll probably be too big to be bathed in an infant tub and you can move her to a bigger plastic child's tub that fits into your regular tub. (We recommend using a nonskid rubber mat, even under an infant or child's tub, to keep it from moving around.)
There are "convertible" tubs on the market designed for newborns to toddlers (up to about 25 pounds). Some convertible models also include the removable slings mentioned above, which you can take out when your baby can sit up unassisted.
Another type has a crotch post to keep your baby from slipping forward in the water. When this type is outgrown, your older toddler can move to a regular bathtub filled with a small amount of water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 6 be watched carefully while in the bathtub.
If you're short on space, you can buy an infant tub that folds. But keep in mind that you'll be using it for only about six months. There are some models on the market that collapse completely, which is handy for travel. If you're considering one of those, set it up to make sure it's sturdy before you put your baby in it.
A "whirlpool spa" might seem cute but you don't need anything that elaborate. Some of them come with a showerhead nozzle that activates with a button--a good idea because keeping water running is a safety risk. But a simple cup of water to rinse your baby off will do just fine. Don't buy a showerhead with a hose that attaches directly to a faucet because it poses a scalding hazard. And don't buy an inflatable bathtub, bath seat, ring, or bathing bucket even if your pediatrician or friends recommend it.
You might also see infant tubs that come with stands designed to save parents from the back pain that might come with bending over to wash a baby. We think the safest place to wash your baby is in an infant tub that fits in a sink or bathtub, or on the floor.
Expect your baby to protest the first couple of times. After that, she'll probably grow to enjoy bath time--and so will you. But remember, when your baby is in the bath, keep a hand on her.