What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap (medically known as infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis) is a condition that you might notice as dry, flaky skin on the top of your baby’s head. Occasionally it can become infected but mostly it’s not as bad as it looks. Cradle cap is most common in the first two months after birth and in the vast majority of cases it lasts only a few weeks or months.


How to recognise cradle cap

The top of your baby’s head may become greasy in places. The skin then dries out and crusts into scaly yellow patches. These patches look flaky and can cover the whole scalp.

Why has my baby got cradle cap?

No one’s absolutely sure what causes it, but it’s nothing to do with hygiene or the way you wash your baby. It’s thought to be caused by your baby’s sebaceous glands (the glands that regulate the natural oils that moisturise the skin) settling down to work properly. Babies with lots of hair and those with none seem to be equally likely to experience the condition. It’s very common and mostly harmless.

Treatments for cradle cap

Mostly cradle cap will heal up on its own. The best thing you can do is gently wash your baby’s head with a mild baby shampoo to prevent the build-up of flaky patches.

You may also find that massaging mild oil, such as olive oil, or petroleum jelly into your baby’s scalp can help loosen and soothe the patches. Avoid any oils or shampoos containing groundnut or peanut oil as these are best avoided before the age of 5.

Though it may be tempting, don’t pick or remove the scales, as this may cause an infection. If your baby is old enough to reach his head, try to stop him picking or scratching at the flakes.

You can get a very soft baby brush or cloth to very gently remove any softened particles but take care not to irritate the area.

When to see the doctor about cradle cap

Some babies have more serious cases of cradle cap, which can sometimes get infected. If your baby’s scalp is irritated or inflamed, or you suspect an infection, visit your doctor. It may also be worth getting your baby checked if the cradle cap doesn’t get better after a few months.

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Your doctor or pharmacist may suggest a mild cream to help soothe the skin and there are medicated shampoos, which you may be able to get on prescription. Once the scalp is back to normal you can use these occasionally to keep the problem at bay.

Some babies get flaky skin elsewhere on their bodies. If you notice this, head to your GP, who can prescribe washes or creams to help mend the skin or diagnose eczema if that's the case.


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