The head to toe guide to your baby’s sensitive skin by Arlene Harris.
‘Soft as a baby’s bottom’ is an expression we are all familiar with – and while it of course refers to the brand new unblemished skin of a new infant, quite often a baby’s posterior is far from soft and smooth as they endure nappy rash, dryness and many other skin conditions.
My own three sons suffered from eczema from birth and it was heart-breaking to see them stoically gurgling while their bodies were red and sore or worse, whimpering as I liberally covered them from head to toe several times a day with all manner of moisturising creams in a bid to soften their cracked, bleeding skin.
My eldest boy probably suffered the worst as not being an experienced mother I didn’t know enough about babies or dry skin conditions to trust my instincts. From day one, I was prescribed all manner of products and every well-meaning person (including several strangers) saw fit to offer advice on everything from what to put in his bath to scary old wives remedies for stripping scaly patches from his torso. I was always inclined to steer away from anything perfumed or medicated if possible, even liberally dousing him in olive oil in an effort to moisturise his skin.
Unfortunately this served to further inflame the issue, but you see where I was coming from – I was keen to keep his treatment as natural as possible. Luckily as the weeks wore on, I began to see that a thick unscented emollient was the most effective long term solution which I would use over and over again as I went on to spend many years tending my three sons’ dry skin.
Fortunately only 20% of babies suffer eczema but keeping their skin soft, clean and dewy is still vitally important. Marie O’Dea is the mother of two small children, neither of whom have ever had any problems with their skin. But keen to keep it that way, she has been moisturising them daily since the day they were born.
“Both my son (three) and daughter (one) are blessed with soft, peachy skin and because my friends daughter suffered from dry skin since birth, I always made sure that I took the time to put cream all over my babies skin to try and prevent any flaking or chapping,” she says.
“I use natural bath oil when I bathe them and then use the same make of moisturiser after I dry them. Luckily they have had no problems so far and I hope by doing this, I will be setting them up with good skin for life.”
According to Midwife and Gentlebirth founder, Tracy Donegan “Babies are not born with very active sweat glands on the body so they need minimal bathing most days as their sweat has no odour.” she continues “Their skin is quite permeable in the early weeks after birth so using organic unperfumed products makes sense – especially as nothing quite beats that new-born baby smell anyway.
“Don’t be in a hurry to bathe your baby right after birth as he is protected by a special antibacterial moisturiser called vernix which melts into his skin in the first few days. And bathing your baby in the first day or so after birth can lower his blood glucose levels by cold stress.”
Keeping clean from top to toe
1. Natural oils are advocated and used throughout the world for babies but there’s no evidence to support their use. Olive oil used to be popular but a 2013 study suggested it was damaging to the skin compared to the use of sunflower oil. All vegetable oils have different chemical compositions and properties and recent research indicates that any oil with high oleic acid content (such as olive oil) should not be used on a baby’s skin as it could affect the infant’s immature skin barrier.
2. There is some debate on the use of perfumed wipes on baby bums so choose ones that are unscented and are unlikely to cause any rash. If you find your baby is sensitive to wipes or has nappy rash you can use cotton squares dipped in warm water (definitely messier but kinder on sore bums).
3. Although many of us grew up loving that powder smell, talcum powder is no longer recommended for use on babies.
4. A bath once a week is enough for an infant and just top and tail throughout the week using a soft washcloth for the face (be careful around the eyes) and of course use a different wash cloth for the rest of the body, pay attention to the folds of skin under the neck and the groin area.
5. Once a dry skin condition rears its ugly head, it can be nipped in the bud somewhat by moisturising liberally from day-one. Emulsifying ointment is thick and gloopy and will not provide pretty bubbles for your baby’s bath, but a dollop sloshed around the bathwater, will coat his skin and preserve essential moisture. The same ointment can then be used to further moisturise the body after drying.
6. Porridge oats are great for reducing itching and can be put in a muslin cloth (tied) or even a sock and placed in the bath to further aid reduce any itching or mild inflammation on the skin.
7. Scented products should be avoided with natural alternatives used instead, i.e. some nice chemical free products especially for babies.
8. Nappy rash can be treated with frequent changes along with a thick layer of petroleum jelly or Sudocrem.
More you might like:
Common skin problems in newborns
Reasons to choose cloth nappies
5 nappy changing tricks