The skinny on infant skin

By Published On: October 4th, 2011

As you ponder the ways in which you can make […]

spoongebath2As you ponder the ways in which you can make your new baby comfortable (and put your finicky mommy mind at ease), the answers may only be skin deep. Just as every baby is different, so too is every baby’s skin. For example, babies who were born prematurely will have thinner skin that may be covered in fine 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, your baby’s skin requires an extra tender loving touch.
Your first instinct may be to wash your baby frequently, but unlike adults, infants don’t need to be bathed on a daily basis. Baby’s skin dries out easily, so it’s better to wash him only every few days. (Since he doesn’t do much movin’ and shakin’ the first couple months anyway, it will be more than enough to keep him clean.) Between baths, carefully wipe baby with a wet cloth during each diaper change, cleaning out those cute rolls and creases where milk or spit-up can sometimes hide. Take care not to submerge him in water prior to his umbilical cord falling off—a sponge bath is all he needs.
A good rubdown with baby lotion following your baby’s bath will keep his skin soft and silky, and it also makes for a great bonding experience. Anything that touches baby’s skin could be an irritant, so be selective as you choose products. When shopping for washes and lotions, look for goods designed specifically for babies, as adult soaps are much too harsh for an infant’s skin. Also be sure that baby’s linens and clothing are washed in hypoallergenic or baby-specific detergents before they touch your little one. Adult detergents can be 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 at all uncommon in the newborn crowd, and heat rash is one of the peskiest causes of those infamous little red bumps. It’s most commonly seen around the neck, chest and back of the scalp, and can be avoided by dressing baby in loose-fitting clothes and layers in colder weather. A cool bath will help ease any discomfort, although heat rash probably bothers baby much less than it bothers you.
Rashes will come and go as baby grows older. Most early surface 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 rash, is also fairly common in newborns and often requires care beyond your average balms and creams. If baby has a rash you can’t seem to kick, let your pediatrician check it out and determine whether it’s eczema; if so, she’ll provide recommendations or a prescription for treatment.
Of course, the most common rashes seen on baby skin are in the diaper area. To ease diaper rash, apply a zinc oxide- or petroleum jelly-based rash ointment (different types work for different babies, so you may need to try a few) 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 help to ease a more severe or recurring diaper rash. If a rash is persistent or bumpy and red, it could be a yeast infection. Should you suspect something other than a basic rash, make an appointment with your pediatrician.
Specific situations
Sunny days
You definitely don’t want to take 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 infants requires careful consideration. While the old “no sunscreen for babies under 6 months” rule 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 risks: A little sunscreen is better than a sunburn, but staying out of the sun is probably the safest solution. Remember to take precautions on sunny days in any season—even when there’s snow on the ground, strong rays will still cause damage.
Buggy baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that once your baby is 2 months or older, bug spray is not only safe but wise to use. Just avoid spraying repellent on baby’s hands, which will inevitably end up in her mouth, and wash off her skin and clothes when you head back indoors. Bug sprays with DEET are the most effective, but look for one containing no more than 10 percent of the chemical.
Acne and milia and birthmarks, oh my!
A newborn’s skin isn’t flawless—don’t be surprised if your little one arrives with or develops a case of baby acne. Resist the urge to pop the pimples—just as with adult acne, doing so is painful and can leave scars. You might also notice little white bumps (called milia) on your baby’s face or small red marks (commonly referred to as stork bites) on his neck or eyelids. All of these bumps and marks are temporary and should go away on their own within a few weeks to months of baby’s birth.
Cradle cap
If your baby’s scalp is flaky and dry, he could have a case of cradle cap. It looks much worse than it feels, 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 faithful standby: a little baby oil rubbed gently into the scalp with a soft toothbrush. Tenderly wash away the oil with baby shampoo, and repeat daily to resolve the issue.