There’s nothing like the smell of a new baby, or the delicate softness of their skin – there isn’t an adult alive who can resist the urge to snuggle them! But, much like every other aspect of your baby, that lovely skin requires a certain amount of vigilance and upkeep.
Baby skin is thinner than adult skin, has less pigment, and doesn’t regulate temperature well. Plus, think about how you react to discomfort or hot and cold: you can pull away from something hot or cold, scratch an itch, or change out of a shirt with a scratchy tag. Since your baby doesn’t have good muscle control yet, and can’t tell you in so many words, “My neck is itchy,” or “I’m too hot,” mild discomfort is more likely to turn into red bumps for her than it is for you.
Luckily, most baby skin conditions are no big deal, and as long as you use very gentle cleansers and moisturizers, change diapers as often as needed, and don’t overdo it with bathing, your baby will be fine.
A quick word about bathing: you should stick entirely to sponge baths at least until your baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off, and you don’t really need to bathe her more than three times a week in her first year. Go with the gentlest fragrance-free cleansers to avoid drying out or irritating that delicate skin: we’ve got great options from MD Moms, Mustela, and Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, among other top brands. Read more about bathing your baby here!
With that said, here are some common baby skin conditions, and some baby skin care basics:
- Diaper rash: Virtually every baby has diaper rash at least once within the first three years. It’s just kind of inevitable: friction and moisture combined will cause redness and discomfort, and no matter how often you change your baby’s diaper, her little nether regions will spend a lot of time not being completely dry. Other causes include irritation from new detergents or clothing, or a bacterial or yeast infection. Under most circumstances, you can treat it at home – you’ll only need to call the doctor if you see any of the severe symptoms here. To treat diaper rash at home, wash your baby’s diaper area with water, avoid soaps and wipes that contain alcohol or fragrance, and give baby’s bottom some time to air out without a diaper on. When you do put a diaper on your baby, use gentle products like Mustela Vitamin Barrier Diaper Cream, Honest Company Diaper Rash Cream, and Mum + Bub Soothing Ointment to soothe the skin and provide a moisture barrier between the skin and the diaper.
- Eczema: It looks alarming, but eczema is pretty common in babies – 10 to 15% of babies will have itchy, dry spots on their body at some point. It can appear anywhere, but is usually on their cheeks, or on the joints of their arms and legs. If you or your partner had eczema as an infant or child, your baby is more likely to get it; it can be triggered by dry skin, assorted irritants and allergens, heat, sweat, or stress. Mustela Stelatopia Moisturizing Cream won top marks from the National Eczema Association, so slathering it on after baths should help. WebMD also recommends lukewarm baths, and if the situation gets really unpleasant, your doctor may recommend a topical steroid.
- Cradle cap / seborrhea: Thankfully, while this skin condition can be a little gross, it’s not itchy and it won’t make your baby uncomfortable. It just looks like a nasty case of dandruff, with greasy, scaly patches on the baby’s scalp, and sometimes on her face, armpits, nose, and/or diaper area. It’s most common under 6 months. Don’t pick at it, because that can lead to actual soreness; most experts recommend rubbing on a gentle oil (baby oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or almond oil) and then using a soft brush to remove the flakes.
- Intertrigo: As much as we adore baby chub, their pudgy little folds can collect moisture and get irritated, especially when little necks and chins get covered in drool. This condition is commonly seen under the baby’s neck, under the arms, in the diaper area, and in the creases of chubby legs. The best thing to do about this skin irritation (which may or may not hurt) is to keep all of those folds as clean and dry as possible; when your baby becomes more active and the folds naturally start to get more air, it should clear up on its own, but ask your doctor if the rash is spreading, if it smells funny, or if the baby develops a fever.
- Heat rash: This is mostly a summer issue, although it can also happen if your baby is bundled up a whole lot during the winter. It’s an eruption of little red bumps that simply means that baby is too hot, and it will appear in the folds of her skin and where her clothing fits snugly. It’s not usually painful but may be a little itchy, and you can relieve it easily by helping your baby cool off. Loosen and/or remove clothing, bring her into the shade, apply a cool wet washcloth, or give her a lukewarm bath with baking soda.
- Toxic erythema: This has a really creepy name, but it’s totally benign and very common! This splotchy newborn rash may look like small white or yellow bumps surrounded by red skin. The cause is unknown, and it’s completely harmless – it can show up around 2-5 days after birth, and will disappear on its own sometime between 1 and 4 months.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend looking at this page simply because the pictures are not very pleasant to look at, but for a really thorough guide of baby skin conditions, you can check out this article at Babycentre. If you’re not sure what’s going on with your baby’s skin, though, and especially if they’re uncomfortable, always default to calling your pediatrician – that’s what they’re there for, and they know that new parents are nervous, so don’t be afraid to bug them. There’s probably nothing serious wrong with your baby, but it can’t hurt to doublecheck!