Paediatrician Dr Leila Masson shares her advice on how to care for your little one’s very delicate skin.
How often should I bathe my baby?
Most babies love to be bathed and parents enjoy the soothing and fun ritual as well. In the early days it isn’t necessary to clean a baby’s entire body every day, butif your baby finds a warm tub calming and clearly blisses out, then you can bathe them daily just for the pleasure of it. You really only need to use a little bit of organic natural soap wherever baby is dirty – usually around the bottom. Equally, there’s no need to wash their hair regularly. In general, just a bit of water on the head is enough to clean it. If your baby has a lot of hair, you can use a tiny amount of mild organic shampoo every one to two weeks.
What should i look for when choosing products to care for my baby’s skin?
Everything you put on your child’s skin will be absorbed into the body, so I recommend using only non-chemical creams and lotions. You need only small amounts, so a bar or bottle of soap will last a long time. Avoid products that contain chemicals like SLS, (sodium lauryl sulphate), parabens and petrochemicals, as these can harm the skin’s barrier and irritate the skin. Instead, look for healthier alternatives such as shampoos, lotions and creams made with natural and essential oils, and natural unscented soap.
What else can affect my baby’s skin?
The optimal fabric for children’s clothing is organic cotton without flame retardants, which are absorbed into the skin and may increase the risk of cancer. Wool is suitable if your child doesn’t have sensitive skin and isn’t allergic to wool or lanolin. As it’s warmer than cotton it can be more practical to use in the cooler winter months.
What are some of the most common skin ailments for baby and how should I treat them?
This is the most common skin problem in babies. It appears as a scaly, sometimes crusty area on baby’s scalp and can be a sign of low stores of essential fatty acids, like omega-3. Sometimes yeast can grow within the flaky skin too.
If you’re breastfeeding, I recommend taking an omega-3 supplement, derived from algae, for example. (This is the cleanest of all omega-3s – remember that fish get their omega-3 by eating algae).
You can add 1 drop of tea tree oil to baby’s bath water and rinse their head with that to help reduce any yeast and fungi growing there. If the crust is thick, apply some olive or coconut oil and leave it on for a few hours. Once softened, remove it very gently with either a soft baby brush or your fingernails. Take care not to scratch the skin.
On rare occasions, cradle cap can be due to a deficiency in biotin (a B vitamin). If you can’t get rid of cradle cap with the measures outlined above, then a breastfeeding mum can safely take a B vitamin that contains vitamin B7 (biotin), which may help.
If none of the above resolve the cradle cap completely, don’t worry. It’s not a sign of any illness and your baby’s skin will most likely clear on its own within a few months.
Neonatal acne (looks like pink pimples) and erythema toxicum (a red blotchy rash) are common in infants and do not require any treatment, as they usually go away on their own within a few weeks. You can apply a few drops of expressed breast milk to the pimples several times daily to assist this. It can also be a good idea to review your diet if breastfeeding and consider reducing your intake of citrus, dairy and sugar for 10 days to help clear up baby’s skin.
(blocked oil glands that appear as tiny white bumps under the skin) also resolve on their own. Milia can respond well to omega-3 fatty acids, which help the oil in the glands flow more easily and prevent them from obstructing the gland opening.
The best way to provide the extra oils to the baby is via breast milk: if you take a supplement it will be excreted in your milk. It’s that easy and works for most minerals, vitamins and other supplements.
This is caused by an irritation of the skin due to exposure to pee and poo. If they are too acidic or contain yeast or aggressive bacteria, the skin becomes inflamed. Yeast and bacteria will also thrive if the skin is always moist because nappies aren’t changed frequently enough.
The best treatment for nappy rash is to improve the gut flora through probiotics (you can take these or give them to baby by mixing a probiotic powder into a teaspoon of expressed breast milk) and protect the skin against moisture by applying zinc barrier cream and either changing nappies more frequently or leaving them off, exposing the skin to air.
If there is a fungal rash (it usually looks a bit scaly, has clearly demarcated borders, scattered satellite lesions and is itchy), then an antifungal cream is a good idea. Apply it two or three times daily and continue for 10 days after the rash has disappeared, as the yeast is still present even though it is no longer visible to the naked eye.
Over-the-counter antifungal creams are effective and safe to use for 10-14 days, but do contain chemicals that are absorbed into the child’s body and may be harmful, especially in infants under three months.
As a safe alternative, you can use tea tree lotion or cream. You could also add two or three drops of tea tree oil to bath water to reduce yeast and bacteria on the skin. ′
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Nappy rash is very common and can happen no matter how carefully you look after your baby’s bottom. However, there are things you can do to try to prevent it occurring and simple remedies available to help treat it.