Rashes and other skin conditions are very common in babies. We outline how to identify and treat various skin problems.
It’s very common for babies to develop skin rashes from as early as a few days after birth, as sensitive skin is adapting to a new environment – but rest assured that most rashes are harmless and will clear up on their own. We examine some of the most common newborn skin conditions that your baby may have in the first few months.
Nappy rash is a very common condition and is caused by the ammonia in the urine which irritates a new baby’s very sensitive skin. It can sometimes be the result of a fungal infection. Most nappy rashes are mild and can be treated with a simple skin care routine. Your baby may cry more often than usual and be irritable. Contact your GP immediately if your child develops severely inflamed (swollen and irritated) skin or a fever. This may be a sign of infection.
It helps to change the baby’s nappy often. Clean the whole nappy area thoroughly, wiping from front to back. Use plain water and cotton wool rather than baby wipes, patting the area dry with a soft towel. Airing your baby’s bottom after topping and tailing is also beneficial, as it allows the skin to breathe and heal without being covered up. Some babies are more prone to nappy rash than others, so try to ensure baby is not left in wet nappy.
If your baby has nappy rash or sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to protect it with a thick barrier cream after every wash. To protect the red skin, you can use a zinc paste or barrier cream, which is available at the chemist: zinc forms a protective surface over the skin. There are also ointments that can help to seal in the skin’s natural moisture, without drying out your baby’s delicate skin. Antifungal cream may be necessary if the rash is caused by a fungal infection.
Eczema is a long-term condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. The most common form is atopic eczema, which mainly affects babies and children but can continue into adulthood. There is no cure, but there are ways to help improve the condition and reduce irritation. Baby eczema shows up as patches of red skin on the face, scalp and body. As the child gets older it usually starts to develop in areas with folds of skin, such as behind the knees or on the front of the elbows. Creams and ointments can often help relieve the symptoms. Infant eczema can be easily confused with cradle cap, another red, scaly rash of infancy.
During flare ups or acute inflammatory periods it is best to seek medical advice. Your GP will prescribe emollients for dry skin and the weakest effective topical corticosteroid. Different strengths are needed for different parts of the body. As long as the eczema is not infected, certain dressings or bandages – known as dry wraps, wet wraps and occlusive dressings – may also be applied by a healthcare professional. They work by reducing itchiness, preventing scratching and helping to stop the skin from drying out. If your baby has atopic eczema, anti-scratch mittens may stop them scratching their skin.
Babies often have ‘dry’ skin, because their oil-secreting glands aren’t fully developed, so the natural water in their skin dries out more quickly. You can help to ease the dryness by adding a baby bath emollient to the water when you bathe your baby. Emollients are skin softeners or smoothers that help your baby’s skin to hold in water. They moisturise dry skin, reduce scaling, soften cracks in the skin and reduce itching. Bath emollients can make your baby very slippery. So keep a gentle, but secure grip on your baby while she’s in the water.
Bathe your baby less frequently. Frequent and lengthy bathing strips your baby’s skin of the natural moisture and oils it needs to remain supple. Instead, you can wash your baby by topping and tailing, which means washing your baby from head to toe with a warm, damp sponge or flannel and pieces of moistened cotton wool.
Moisturise your baby’s skin immediately following her bath/top and tail wash. Use an unscented moisturiser that is suitable for babies.
Hydrate your baby. Feed your baby breast milk whenever she is hungry, as this will also quench her thirst, keeping her hydrated.
These spots often develop when bacteria, which quickly establish a ‘base’ on the skin, invade the pure, healthy skin of a newborn baby.
You don’t need to do anything at all. The bumps will go away on their own, without treatment, in a few weeks, although it’s possible for them to last a month or two. Don’t try to squeeze these pimplelike bumps to make them go away faster – that could cause scarring. Vigorous washing and scrubbing isn’t a good idea either: It won’t help and it could irritate your baby’s sensitive skin.
Cradle cap is the yellowish, greasy scaly patches that sometimes appear on the scalp of young babies – it looks like a very bad case of dandruff. Over time, the scales can start to become flaky so they rub off easily, often with bits of your baby’s hair attached. Cradle cap is very common in babies younger than eight months. It’s a common, harmless condition that does not usually itch or cause discomfort to the baby Cradle cap usually appears in babies in the first two months and tends to clear up by itself after a few weeks or months, although in rare cases it can last much longer.
° Most cases of cradle cap will clear up on their own in time. Gently washing your baby’s hair and scalp can help prevent a build-up of scales. There is usually no need to see your GP if your baby has cradle cap. However, you may want to ask them for advice if your baby’s scalp becomes inflamed or if the cradle cap spreads to other parts of their body. It’s important not to pick at the scales as this may cause an infection.
Baby yeast infections
Oral thrush is a fungal infection in the mouth that is particularly common in babies and young children. It is usually harmless and easily treatable. The main symptom of oral thrush is a white coating on your baby’s tongue, although there may also be white patches elsewhere in the mouth. This coating may look like curd or cottage cheese and usually cannot be rubbed off easily. Babies may not seem bothered by the patches, but they may be reluctant to feed – or keep detaching from the breast during feeds – if they are sore. Baby yeast infections may also be associated nappy rash caused by the same infection that needs to be treated as well.
Oral thrush can also affect babies if they have recently been treated with antibiotics because antibiotics reduce the levels of healthy bacteria in your baby’s mouth, which can allow fungus levels to increase. If you are breastfeeding and have been taking antibiotics for an infection, your own levels of healthy bacteria in your body can be affected, which can also make you prone to a thrush infection that may then be passed to your baby during breastfeeding.
Talk to your GP: thrush is treated with an anti-yeast liquid medicine, while an anti-fungal cream is used for a yeast nappy rash.
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