There are few things better than the soft, delicate skin of a newborn…and few things worse than a cranky infant irritated by diaper rash, cradle cap, or other skin condition. In my clinic, I am asked tons of questions regarding newborn skin care. Taking care of your baby’s skin can be simple, if you know how to properly treat it and you know what to look for.
1. What we can learn from kangaroos.
The skin is not only a way for you to enjoy your baby, but is also a way for your baby to enjoy you: Studies published in a 2003 issue of Pediatrics in Review have shown that skin-to-skin contact with a parent in the early days to weeks of life, termed "kangaroo care," is important for your baby’s temperature regulation and development and has led to positive outcome measures including increased weight gain and decreased crying.
2. Most rashes are routine.
A newborn’s skin may exhibit a variety of changes over the first weeks of life. After all, your baby has essentially been floating in a warm bath for the past nine months. Rashes are common and mostly benign, albeit a frequent source of parental concern. Baby acne, which may erupt in the first few days of life, is a temporary reaction to the remainder of mom's estrogen in the baby's blood stream and should go away on its own in several weeks. Tiny white pimples on the nose, known as milia, are another benign skin finding which are the result of blocked sebaceous glands. Other rashes like erythema toxicum, which appear as pustules on a reddish base, is common often before the baby leaves the newborn nursery. Dry skin is another concern, including cradle cap which often disappears with routine bathing with a fragrance-free soap.
More concerning rashes? Anything actively draining fluid, accompanied by fever, or ones that are progressively worsening or spreading.
3. Diaper rash: The bottom line..
The warm, moist environment of the diaper provides the perfect conditions for skin irritation, often leading to red, irritated rashes and fussiness and discomfort of your newborn. Culprits include chafing, a reaction to diaper material, a yeast infection, or prolonged contact with urine or stool. For prevention, hygiene is key: Wipe your baby’s bottom with unscented wipes and pat dry, changing soiled diapers promptly. For treatment, apply a thick layer of zinc oxide or another barrier cream, which should be left on at each diaper change rather than rubbing hard to remove it. Also, frequently exposing your baby’s bottom to room air can be helpful.
Red flags? If there is any bleeding, if you notice pus-filled sores or if the rash does not go away within 3-5 days.
4. Remember, when it comes to newborn skin, “less is more.”
In general, baby’s skin does not need much specialized care. Apart from diaper changes, drool and the occasional spit-up, newborns tend to stay relatively clean. Resist the urge to bathe your baby frequently, as it strips away the natural oils that protect the baby’s skin. For the first month or so, sponge bath with a gentle, fragrance free cleanser or plain water two to three times a week, which should keep your baby clean while preventing your baby’s skin from losing it’s natural moisture.
Dr. Corey Wasserman is a resident pediatrician at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology with an emphasis on child development at Bucknell University and went on to attend Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where she received her M.D. and graduated with high honors.