As you ponder the ways in which you can make your new baby comfortable, the answers may only be skin deep. Just as every baby is different, so is every baby’s skin. For example, babies who were born prematurely will have thinner skin that may be covered in hair called lanugo, while other babies will have a red or purple tone that changes to pink as circulation increases. But no matter how it looks, a baby’s sensitive skin needs a little more tender loving care than you give your own.
Caring for your baby’s sensitive skin
Because of the texture, tone or excess hair on your newborn, your first instinct may be to wash her frequently, but unlike adults, babies don’t need to be bathed on a daily basis. Because a baby’s skin dries easily, it’s better to only wash your baby every few days—and since she doesn’t do much movin’ and shakin’ the first couple of months anyway, it’ll be more than enough to keep her clean.
Between baths, you can keep your baby clean by carefully wiping her with a wet cloth during each diaper change and cleaning those cute rolls and creases where milk or spit-up can sometimes hide. Until your baby’s umbilical cord falls out, take care not to submerge her in water—a sponge bath is all she needs.
A good rubdown with baby lotion following your baby’s bath will keep her skin soft and silky, and it also makes for a great bonding experience for you and your little one. Anything that touches a baby’s skin can be an irritant, so extra care is needed to protect it. When shopping for baby washes and lotions, look for products designed specifically for baby skin, as adult soaps are way too harsh for the sensitive skin of an infant.
Also be sure that all your baby’s linens and clothing are washed in hypoallergenic detergent or specially formulated cleansers for babies before touching your little one’s skin. Adult detergents are severe and could cause an allergic reaction. Some mothers opt for all natural or organic goods, which is simply a personal choice—any product designed for baby care is safe to use.
Rashes aren’t all that uncommon in the newborn crowd, with heat rash being one of the peskiest purveyors of those infamous little red bumps. To avoid heat rash, dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes and layers in colder weather. Heat rash is most commonly seen around the neck, chest and back of the scalp. A cool bath and loose clothing will help ease any discomfort, although it probably bothers your baby much less than it bothers you!
Skin rashes will come and go as your baby grows older. Most early skin rashes are not serious, but you should contact your doctor if other symptoms occur, such as fever, lethargy, coughing or a change in feeding pattern. Eczema, an itchy, sometimes flaky skin rash, is also fairly common in newborns and often requires care beyond your average balms and creams.
If your baby has a rash that you can’t seem to kick, let your pediatrician check it out and decide if it’s eczema; if so, he’ll provide recommendations or a prescription for treatment.
Of course, the most common rash seen on baby skin is in the diaper area. To ease diaper rash, try a zinc oxide or petroleum jelly-based rash ointment (different kinds work for different babies, so don’t be surprised if you have to try a couple) and be sure to keep your baby’s bottom as clean and dry as possible. Using cloth diapers for a period of time or giving your baby’s bum a little fresh air by letting him go bare-bottomed can both ease diaper rash. If a rash is persistent or bumpy and red, it could be a yeast infection (not all that uncommon in little ones).
Another consideration when caring for your baby’s skin is sunscreen—you definitely don’t want to take your baby out in the sun without protection, but there’s more to sunscreen than meets the eye. For starters, you should never use adult sunscreen on a baby, and even sunscreen designed for babies requires a second thought.
While the old rule of no sunscreen for babies under six months is now considered passe, most pediatricians do recommend limiting sunscreen use and washing babies thoroughly once they are out of the sun. Basically, the benefits outweigh the risk—a little sunscreen is better than a sunburn, but staying out of the sun is probably the best solution. A big sun hat, long sleeves and pants (made of thin cotton so as not to overheat baby) and an umbrella or under-the-tree spot will keep baby out of the sun, but not out of the fun!
If your baby’s scalp is flaky and dry, he could have a case of cradle cap. It bothers mom a lot more than baby, so don’t be too concerned if you start seeing flakes under that tuft of hair. There are several treatments on the market that work well, and many doctors still recommend the old faithful standby—a little baby oil rubbed gently into the scalp with a soft toothbrush. It leaves babies with a lot of hair looking a little greasy, but it does the trick!
The American Academy of Pediatrics say that once your baby is 2 months or older, bug spray is not only safe but wise to use. Just avoid spraying repellent on your baby’s hands, which will inevitably end up in his mouth, and wash off his skin and clothes when you head back indoors. Bug sprays with DEET are the most effective, but look for one with no more than 10 percent.
Baby acne and milia and birthmarks, oh my!
The skin of a newborn isn’t flawless—many babies get a good breakout of baby acne (resist the urge to pop the pimples—they will go away on their own with no treatment). Milia, little white bumps usually found on the face, are also completely normal and don’t require any treatment. And finally, birthmarks commonly referred to as stork bites might show up on the back of the neck or the eyelids. These small red marks will fade within a few months of birth and, once again, don’t require any extra attention from mom or your baby’s pediatrician.