When your baby is born, you might be surprised by how his or her skin appears. If he or she was a little early, he or she will probably still be covered in vernix, a white, waxy substance that protects your baby's skin in utero. This is usually not washed off immediately after birth as it helps to moisturise your baby's skin and will be absorbed into his or her skin over the first few days of life.
If he or she is overdue, most of this vernix will have disappeared and his or her skin might be quite dry and flaky. Whether or not you use anything to moisturise his or her skin is personal choice.
During the first few weeks after birth, you might notice several changes in your baby's skin. These include:
Milia - also known as milk spots, milia are tiny, white spots just under the skin. Despite their name, they are not related to milk at all and will usually clear up on their own within a month or so.
Baby acne - around 20% of newborns will experience baby acne within the first few weeks of life. These tiny pimples may look unsightly, but usually don't require any treatment other than keeping your baby's skin clean and dry. Baby acne usually appears sometime between two and six weeks of age and in most cases it has cleared up by three months of age.
Cradle cap - Dry, flaky skin on your baby's scalp has become known as cradle cap, and whilst it's perfectly fine to ignore cradle cap, it does look unsightly, particularly if your baby doesn't have much hair, and many parents prefer to find ways of reducing or eliminating it. The most common remedy is to coat your baby's scalp with almond or olive oil and then use a soft baby brush to brush away the flakes. If your baby's cradle cap appears sore, red or inflamed, check with your pharmacist or GP as it may require treatment.
Nappy rash - Nappy rash is usually caused by moisture sitting on your baby's skin inside his or her nappy. Nappy rash can usually be avoided with frequent nappy changes, and by using a nappy with a breathable outer layer to allow your baby's skin to breathe. You can protect your baby's skin from nappy rash by using a barrier cream such as zinc and castor, or a specially formulated baby powder. If your baby has nappy rash, you should use a barrier cream at every change until it is healed.
In cases of persistent or inflamed nappy rash, the cause may be either a fungal infection (such as thrush) or a bacterial infection (such as staphylococcus). Both of these require treatment by a doctor. In older babies, foods with a high acid content such as kiwifruit and oranges may exacerbate nappy rash by as they increase the acidity of baby's urine. If this occurs, removing the offending foods from your baby's diet for a few days should help to resolve the problem.
Eczema - A small percentage of babies will develop dry, scaly, red patches on their skin, particularly in the folds of their skin, behind their ears, in the knee and elbow creases and on the face. Eczema is an atopic condition in the same category as hayfever, asthma and food allergies and is more common in babies with a family history of these conditions. Eczema is particularly nasty because it tends to itch, and it is incredibly difficult to stop a baby from scratching! Soft, cotton scratch mittens can help stop a younger baby from scratching. It is important to moisturise the affected skin regularly to stop it from drying out too much, this will also help reduce the itch. There are also steroid creams available for treating eczema, as well as a host of natural and homeopathic remedies. It is worth seeing your GP for advice as he or she can offer advice on other ways to relieve eczema such as avoiding certain foods.
Day-to-day care of your baby's skin is simple. He or she doesn't need soaps, creams or lotions, it's perfectly fine to bathe baby in plain water. If you do want to use something in your baby's bath, choose a baby-specific product as these are specially formulated to be gentle on sensitive baby skin. If your baby has dry skin, there are a number of baby lotions and moisturisers available.