Odds are high that your little one’s skin won’t remain blemish-free forever. But even expecting the inevitable doesn’t offset the panic of seeing unusual splotches when you don’t know what they are or how to treat them. Before you fret, know that the majority of infants are either born with skin conditions or develop them as they age, and most irritations are not serious and can be treated at home.
“Parents should speak with a doctor if a skin condition is concerning them, but typically they’re not urgent,” says Kathryn Page, MD, a pediatrician at First Choice Primary Care in Macon, Georgia. “It’s [always] better to check with the doctor’s office because sometimes what the Internet says can be kind of overwhelming.”
Here are some of the most common skin conditions and how to treat them:
If you notice a thin crust or scaling on your baby’s scalp, you’re probably looking at cradle cap. Those flaky white or yellow scales might look painful or itchy, but the truth is, they’ll bother you far more than they bug your baby.
The condition is common in newborns and usually doesn’t warrant a trip to the doctor. In fact, it should go away on its own within a few weeks, or possibly months. To help the process along, you can gently rub your baby’s scalp with your fingers to loosen the scales, wash your tot’s hair once a day with mild baby shampoo, and use a soft brush to loosen the dandruff-like flakes. Also try applying an edible oil (like olive or coconut) on the scalp, waiting a few minutes, and then shampooing it out.
If the cradle cap doesn’t improve, consider asking your pediatrician about alternative treatments.
Even if you’re a first-time mom, you probably recognize those bright red patches on baby’s bum as diaper rash. The culprit behind the inflammation is often dirty diapers. Since babies have such sensitive skin, prolonged exposure to a wet or soiled nappy may cause irritation. Flat, irritated, red skin is probably a contact rash; if it gets bad, the skin might blister or peel.
But soiled nappies are not the only offender. When your little one is old enough to try solid foods, the consistency and frequency of his stool changes, increasing the likelihood of rash. If your baby develops a red ring around his anus, it could be indicative of a food allergy. If he’s eating solids, take note of his recent diet; if he’s breastfeeding, the reaction may be from something you ate. It’s also possible that something as simple as a change in diaper or wipes brand could agitate your tot’s skin.
Make sure diapers aren’t too loose or too tight to ensure they don’t rub your baby’s bottom the wrong way or restrict airflow. And when you can, let your little one hang out in his birthday suit to air out the infected area. (Don’t forget to put down an old blanket or beach towel for him to play on so an accident doesn’t ruin your rug.)
The best way to prevent and heal a diaper rash is to keep your baby’s skin as clean and dry as possible, which means frequent diaper changes are a must. If you see signs of redness, treat the infected area with ointment—your doctor or pharmacist can help you determine the best cream for your condition. If the rash doesn’t begin clearing up within a few days, seek your doctor’s advice.
The old wives’ tale about the long-legged birds dropping off babies on doorsteps lead to the term “stork bite,” a flat, pinkish birthmark that may appear on your newborn’s forehead, eyelids, nose, upper lip, neck or any other place the stork might have nipped while delivering your little bundle. Stork bites are caused by stretched blood vessels and are nothing to be concerned about.
Babies may be born with them or acquire them within their first few months of life. There’s no need for treatment—they’re fairly common and not harmful— and most will disappear on their own within the first few years. However, not all stork bites go away. If you’re troubled by the splotch’s appearance, talk to your pediatrician about possible options, such as laser treatment, to remove the marks.
Remember those annoying zits you used to get as a teenager (or, more recently, as an mom-to-be)? You might think your baby is too young for pimples, but those little bumps impeding your baby’s soft skin are likely the exact same plague you spent your adolescent years trying to avoid.
Infant acne is not unusual and can show up at birth or in the weeks following. There are many possible causes; just consider all the things that touch your baby’s face in a day, including spit up, drool, bibs and clothes that may hold lingering laundry detergent. Make an extra effort to clean your little one’s face regularly, and remember that the acne isn’t hurting him. The pimples might concern you, but they will most likely go away within a few weeks without him even noticing.
Whatever you do, don’t try to clear up his skin by scrubbing it. The acne isn’t caused by dirt, so scrubbing will only irritate the breakout further. Avoid applying oily lotions, which may worsen the condition, and don’t forget that, despite evidence to the contrary, your little one doesn’t have the tough skin of a teenager. Although over-the-counter medications might have helped you when you were 15, they are not made for a baby’s sensitive skin. If the bumps seem extreme or last more than three months, consult your doctor, who may prescribe medication if needed.