Caring for a newborn's skin
Babies may pop into the world all flushed and wrinkled, but within a few days they’ll be rosy, with dewy soft skin that is so fine and soft you’ll barely be able to keep yourself from touching and stroking it.
But there can be minor problems, from dryness to the occasional rash, that need care and attention.
Follow our guide to the best way to care for your baby’s skin.
Despite all the products available, water is all you’ll need for the first six weeks. And don’t worry about bathtime having to be a daily routine – once a week is fine. If your newborn is agitated by going in the bath, a daily top and tail is enough to keep her skin free of irritation. Always test bathwater with your elbow – it should feel just warm and be no more than 10cm deep in the baby bath.
Keep eyes clean
Sticky eye often affects newborns. To avoid spreading an infection, use cotton wool dipped in cool boiled water, gently wipe from the inside of the eye to the outside to avoid stickiness. Repeat with the other eye, using a fresh piece of cotton wool with each wipe.
Clean the creases at the top of her legs, and around her genitals – as traces of urine can get trapped and cause irritation. Always wipe front to back when cleaning a girl’s genitals to avoid a urine infection – this happens when germs from her bottom get into her bladder. For boys, clean as above, and gently wipe his penis away from his body, but never try to pull back the foreskin. Dry thoroughly, or skin will become sore and chafed.
Wash your baby’s hair about once a week. Cradle her head in one hand, her back along your forearm and tuck her legs under your elbow. Gently pour bath water over her head with a small bowl or cupped hand. Afterwards, pat her gently dry with a soft towel.
Cradle cap is completely harmless, although it can look unsightly. Don’t pick or scrape at it, as the skin can become infected. The best way to treat it is to rub your baby’s scalp with baby oil or olive oil and leave for 24 hours. Then gently wash the crusts off, as you wash her hair. Be patient, it will clear in time.
Keeping the tummy-button area clean and dry will reduce the risk of infection. Until the stump heals, clean the navel daily with cotton wool dipped in cooled boiled water and dry with fresh cotton wool. Consult your midwife or health visitor if the navel looks red, swollen, inflamed, or starts to weep.
Top and tail
You don’t have to use a bath at all, especially for the first six weeks or so. Make a ‘top and tail’ part of your routine. If you find traces of white waxy stuff on your baby’s skin, it’s the vernix coating left over from birth, which will soon disappear. Wipe eyes and ears with cool boiled water – but never clean inside the ear. Uncurl her fingers and wipe hands gently. Clean her face and neck to remove all milk and dribble, which can cause irritation. Then clean the nappy area – to guard against nappy rash, leave her to kick her legs and get some air to the skin. Change nappies as soon as they are wet, and apply a barrier cream if using cloth nappies.
One way to care for your baby’s skin and enjoy her at the same time is a baby massage. Use olive oil and gently massage over her body with your fingertips – be careful not to press too hard.
When there are problems
It’s normal for a newborn’s skin to be blotchy. ‘Newborn skin seems fragile, but it’s actually quite tough,’ says consultant dermatologist Allan Marsden, of the British Skin Foundation. ‘Unless your baby has an extreme sensitivity problem, her skin will regulate and moisturise itself. It’s very rare for a young baby to have a serious problem.’
Birthmarks are common in newborns, but most fade in time. Here are some marks you may notice.
Salmon patches appear on the bridge of the nose, eyelids or nape of the neck. They usually fade within a few days.
Port wine stain is a dark red flat mark, which can be seen on the face or body at birth. Early laser treatment will improve the mark, advises consultant dermatologist Allan Marsden, of the British Skin Foundation.
Strawberry mark is a raised, pink mark, usually fairly small, which can be present at birth or appears a few weeks later. Most fade with time, and in five to ten years almost disappear. ‘The only reason for treatment would be if the strawberry mark is on the eyelid, or blocking your baby’s field of vision,’ advises Allan Marsden.
Spots and jaundice are common in the first 10 days after birth. Here’s what to look out for:
Milk spots: Usually appear as tiny white bumps on the nose or cheeks. They need no treatment unless extensive and fade within a few weeks.
Heat rash: A faint rash caused by overheating. It’s far more common in babies than children and usually appears in the creases of the face where sweat can gather. It’s not serious – your baby may be wrapped up too warmly so try removing a layer of clothes.
Jaundice: Many newborns develop very mild jaundice about three days after birth, which turns their skin slightly yellow. It’s treated under a phototherapy lamp or clears by itself.