Your newborn’s skin will undergo many changes during the first few weeks of life, and you may find caring for such delicate skin challenging at first. Never fear: A skincare guide with simple tips and how-tos follows.
New parents often ask how to tend to their baby’s umbilical cord. The umbilical cord is the connection between you and your baby while your child is growing, and requires special attention after the birth.
When your baby is born, your healthcare provider will cut the cord, leaving behind a short stump. Remember that less is more when it comes to cord care. Keep the stump clean and dry, and let nature take its course. Typically, the cord will fall off and the area will heal completely by your baby’s third week of life.
In the past, providers advised applying rubbing alcohol to the base of the stump daily. This procedure has fallen out of fashion as data have shown that simply leaving the cord alone and taking only minimal precautions lead to better (and faster!) healing.
You should avoid bathing your baby in a sink or a tub until the umbilical stump and scab have fallen off, as immersing your baby in water slows down the healing process and can lead to an infection. Also, keep the diaper’s front edge folded down below the cord to prevent excess moisture buildup — along with any complications.
If you feel that the base of the stump appears wet, smells or is sticky, you can wash it gently with warm water, then dry it with a clean cotton cloth, fan the area with your hand or use a hair dryer set on cool. However, if you notice collected pus or a strong smell or if the skin surrounding the base of the stump becomes red or inflamed, contact your newborn’s provider, as your baby might be developing an infection that will require prompt treatment.
You may begin bathing your baby once the base of the cord has healed. Start with quick, simple baths until your child begins to enjoy the bathing process. If she seems upset when you place her in the tub, it’s fine to take a break from the tub and go back to sponge baths for a week or two.
Bath time should be enjoyable for both you and your child. Bathe your baby as often as you both prefer, but try to restrict shampooing to twice a week. Use simple soaps without strong fragrances or artificial coloring. Let your baby enjoy her bath as long as she likes, but save lathering up for the end to reduce the amount of time her skin is exposed to the soap.
The Delicate Diaper Area
Newborn diaper rash (diaper dermatitis) is common. Typically, it appears as a flat, red rash caused by contact from moisture and dirty diapers.
Treatment starts with prevention. Change your baby’s diapers promptly, allow the skin to air-dry with gentle fanning, and let your baby relax on top of a clean diaper or go bare-bottomed for a few minutes. Use petroleum jelly or zinc oxide over your baby’s sensitive areas at every diaper change for added protection while creating a moisture barrier. Avoid baby powders as particles can get into your baby’s lungs and are not as effective. If you think you see an irritated area, use a product with lanolin or a butt paste to soothe the skin until the issue is resolved. Severe cases may require a steroid cream. It’s best to check with your provider for persistent rashes.
A raised pimply rash may be due to a yeast infection. Risk factors for developing a yeast infection include recent diarrhea, antibiotic use of your baby having oral thrush. Yeast is a fungus that likes the moist, warm creases in the skin and can appear on the buttocks, lower abdomen and inner thighs. There are several over-the-counter anti-fungal creams available, but their safety has not been established in babies younger than four weeks. If you think your baby might have a yeast infection, contact your provider for recommendations.
Hydration and Protection
Skincare often starts at the hospital, where you may notice that your baby is not washed for the first 6 to 24 hours. This is so your newborn will have prolonged exposure to vernix, the white, cheesy-looking covering on the skin upon emerging from the womb. Vernix protects babies while in the womb, and the germ-fighting properties continue once they are out.
After bringing your baby home, his skin might look dry and flaky for one to two weeks. This is normal and will resolve on it’s own, but you may want to use a hydrated petroleum jelly.
Also remember to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on an infant six months or older. Avoid exposing a child younger than six months to the sun.
There are hundreds of skincare products, home remedies and opinions about taking care of your baby’s delicate skin. Your provider can help you sort through any confusion. In addition, remember to ask your provider about any new rash or change in your baby’s skin.
Alex Vanderby, MD, and Rachel Vanderby, MD, are Family Medicine Resident Physicians at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in Florida. They are currently enjoying spending time with their newborn daughter.