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Caring for Baby’s Skin

As your baby enters the world, the skin is likely to display markings that might seem alarming to a new parent, but are usually harmless. These symptoms are an indicator of the skin’s vital role as a mediator to the profound changes of her new environment.

The following conditions are most commonly seen in the first six months of a baby’s life and are only cause for concern in certain circumstances. Understanding how to monitor each specific condition and what natural treatments exist will not only put a new parent’s mind at ease, but will ensure a more joyful, less anxious experience with their new baby.

Often, little white bumps might appear on your baby’s face as a result of immature oil glands, otherwise known as milia. These will go away and are no cause for concern. Avoid the urge to pick at these to ‘clean’ them as this will only irritate the skin.

In the first few days of life, a red, splotchy, wandering rash often appears and is medically termed erythema toxicum. It is a perfectly normal reaction of your baby’s skin and will generally clear up within the first week. If however, it does not fade away within ten days, you might be dealing with a staphylococcus infection, which will require treatment. Signs that the rash is more serious are open lesions, pustules, hard bumps or peeling, accompanied by fever and lethargy. You will need to see a doctor for this as soon as possible. The doctor will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics if it is a staphylococcus infection.

Many newborns have a yellow tint to their skin, called jaundice. This is a result of the liver’s inability to produce the bilirubin needed to get rid of dead red blood cells, a job that, until now, the mother’s body was doing for the baby in the womb.

Normally it takes a newborn’s liver a week or two to take on this new function. Sometimes the jaundice can remain and get worse. The yellowish tint to the skin becomes more pronounced and can be seen on the whites of the eyes. This is a cause for concern and requires the attention of your doctor in case treatment is needed to get the liver working properly.

Thick yellow greasy scales located predominantly on the scalp (but also around the nose, ears and groin area) sometimes appear between two and 12 weeks. This is known as cradle cap and is caused by overactive sebaceous (oil) glands. Although this condition looks uncomfortable for your infant, it is rarely harmful. Use warm water and gentle combing to rub off the flakes of dry skin. Steer clear of shampoos in the first months to avoid skin irritation.

Cradle cap can lead to a bacterial or fungal infection. Signs of this include warm, red areas with possibly open lesions with infected looking discharge. In order to avoid this infection, stay away from refined sugars and saturated animal fats. A nursing mother should take lactobacillus acidophilus twice daily. If an infection has occurred, a doctor can recommend a topical cream.

If you see patches of red, dry, flaking skin and areas that are inflamed, moist and perhaps even oozing, you are likely dealing with eczema. Eczema is usually seen in the creases of the arms or legs, and on the face and scalp. Eczema can be short lived or may last several years, with flare ups occurring sporadically. Whether eczema runs in your family or not, it is often related to food sensitivities or to other allergens such as dust, pollen, bubble bath, soap, cosmetics, plants or environmental pollutants.

Highly allergenic foods include citrus fruits, dairy products, eggs, wheat, shellfish, chocolate and soy. In the case of eczema or other unexplained rashes, nursing mothers should eliminate these items from their diet for a couple of weeks to see if the symptoms subside.

Dugald Seely, ND, MSc is the Director of Research at The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, On. and has a clinical practice dedicated to cancer and disease prevention.

Sarah Young, MA is a Research Associate at The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and specializes in environmental health matters.

a man carrying two children

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