As a new parent, I found giving my baby a bath one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of newborn care. I remember feeling like their tiny bodies were so slippery!! Their tiny bodies and delicate skin require gentle touch and care. The market makes us think we need fancy tubs and toys for a successful bath but it is really much simpler than that. Read on for my bath time tips and common baby skin concerns.
Washing Your Baby
In the really early months, babies don’t really need a full-on bath. Their skin is extremely delicate and very prone to dryness so a gentle washing will do. The best method for cleaning tiny babies is to use a soft cloth and warm water and simply wipe areas that are dirty. Keep the hands clean (since they so often end up in the mouth) and pay special attention to skin folds under the neck, which can accumulate milk products and dirt.
When it is time to give baby a bath, safety first! Invest in a baby tub that will help contain your baby to a smaller area. Limit bath time and use warm (not hot) water to help ward off dry skin. Use a gentle baby wash (I like Aveeno Baby) and moisturize immediately after the bath (I like Vanicream). While we all want our babies to smell nice, it is important to avoid overly fragrant baby washes and moisturizing lotions. Babies who are more prone to eczema may develop allergies to the fragrances found in such products. As much fun as bubble’s in the bath can be, these products tend to be harsh on the skin so I prefer to avoid them (or limit to once a month or so).
If you baby have persistently dry skin or skin that appears to be very itchy, it is possible that he or she has mild eczema. Babies who have eczema have a harder time retaining moisture in their skin. I first noticed mild eczema in my daughter when she was four months old. I was a resident physician at the time. One of the things I learned from my daughter’s skin is that babies with eczema need to bathe less often. I know that goes against everything you may be thinking in terms of keeping a baby clean. Furthermore, many use bath time as part of their sleep routine. However, bathing every other day and moisturizing skin daily can solve most mild baby eczema. To find out why, check out my eczema blog. In my home, we bath out children every other day. They are allowed to enjoy bath time for as long as they would like. When they get out of the bath, we pat them dry and immediately apply a thick moisturizing cream to their skin. On non-bath days, I fill a sink with soap and water and clean the stinky parts, but I do not submerse their skin in water. Again, I follow this up with a thick moisturizing cream.
Infantile seborrheic dermatitis is the official name for cradle cap, and it’s VERY common and completely harmless. I hear from a lot of worried parents when they see flaky patches of skin on their babies head. Cradle cap often presents as dry skin that looks like dandruff and can also bring yellow or brown crusting patches. This condition doesn’t warrant a trip to the doctor but you may want to bring it up during a routine visit. Most likely it will clear up all on its own in six to twelve months. Often babies who have eczema may also have more severe cradle cap. If cradle cap is severe, it can cause irritation of the scalp and itching. A few things you can try (gently!):
- Using your fingers or a soft brush you can gently massage to loosen the scales. Do not pick! Let the dry patches fall off on their own.
- After shampooing, be sure to rinse all product out of your baby’s hair. Use a soft brush or towel to brush the hair. This will help to loosen some of the patches.
- Some parents have had good luck with massaging a natural oil into the scalp to help with tough cases of cradle cap. I suggest olive oil – rub a small amount onto the scalp and leave for about 15 minutes. Gently comb out flakes with a fine-tooth comb or brush with a soft brush. Wash the scalp with a gentle shampoo afterwards. Leaving oil on the scalp could result in clogged pores and cause the flakes to stick.
- If seborrhea appears on the face, similar steps can be taken to remove it. However, if it persists a mild topical medication may need to be prescribed from your PCP.
As your baby turns into a toddler and then grows up to be a big kid the dirt will start to accumulate and bath time will become an entirely different scenario. I’ll cover bath time for toddlers and big kids in another post soon!