You might be surprised or even upset to see blemishes, bumps and rough patches on your baby’s skin. In most cases, though, you don’t need to worry. Here is what you might find, and what, if anything, you should do about it.
In the first few days of life, newborns commonly get a rash called erythema toxicum, which looks like red splotches with a yellowish “head” in the middle. These marks will disappear in about a week. Then, at about three or four weeks of age, many babies develop pimply red bumps and rough skin on their faces, resembling teenage acne. This condition is actually caused when the maternal hormones decline. There is no need for any special washing technique beyond gentle cleansing with water — avoid rubbing the skin or using harsh soaps. You should expect the acne to improve in a few months. Note that if your baby has acne now, it doesn’t mean that the condition will exist when your child becomes a teenager.
In their first week of life, about half of all infants develop small, pearly or yellowish bumps on their skin known as milia. These bumps are usually on the face (especially around the nose), and are roughly the size of the head of a pin. They are pockets of trapped skin material (keratin) that build up in your baby’s pores. You should leave these bumps alone, as they will typically slough off in a few weeks.
Cradle cap is a harmless condition that looks like yellow, flaky dandruff. It occurs when the scalp produces too much oil, and is not at all caused by insufficient washing. Most cradle cap needs no treatment, and will go away on its own by the time your infant is a year old. But, to reduce the amount of scale, you can rub the scalp with a towel or a soft brush. Alternatively, you can rub baby oil or olive oil into the scalp, use a soft brush to massage and loosen the scale, and comb out the flakes.
Diaper Rash Red, irritated skin in the diaper area isn’t fun for anyone, especially your baby. Most diaper rashes are caused when your baby’s skin is in contact with a wet or soiled diaper for too long. Some babies have particularly sensitive skin, and do better when their bottoms are wiped with a cloth and plain water, then allowed to air-dry before a new diaper is put on. Avoid using powder. Instead, at the first sign of irritation, use a thick barrier cream (with zinc oxide in the ingredient list). Think of the thick coating of cream as a raincoat for your baby’s skin!
Peeling Skin Some parents are shocked to find that their healthy newborn is peeling from head to toe. Most common among babies born after their due date, this skin condition is completely normal and not cause for alarm.
June Tester, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician and researcher in Oakland, CA.
For more information on newborns, go to www.youandyourfamily.com.