Putting a Lid on Cradle Cap

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Does the sudden appearance of unsightly flakes on your beautiful baby’s scalp have you scratching your head?

The yellowish flakes are likely cradle cap, a harmless, noncontagious skin condition that’s common among babies and toddlers. Precisely why cradle cap occurs is a subject of debate among physicians; overproduction of oil by skin glands is a leading theory. What’s certain is poor hygiene doesn’t cause the crusty flakes, nor do allergies.

No two cases of cradle cap look alike. Your 8-week-old son, for example, might have crusty, yellow scales clustered in the center of his scalp, whereas your 16-month-old niece has flakes that are brown and more widely distributed across her head; she even has a few on her eyelids.

Getting Ahead

Cradle cap probably irritates you more than your baby. Seeing scaly patches on your little bundle’s head is frustrating and heartbreaking for every mom, but it’s rarely itchy or bothersome to baby. The good news is most cases of cradle cap resolve after home treatment, although weeks or months may pass before the scales disappear completely. Here’s what to do:

  • Just keep brushin’. Brush your child’s hair often throughout the day. Clean the brush after each use.

  • Make it a spa day. Before bathing your baby, gently rub his scalp with your fingers, a washcloth or a soft brush to get rid of scales. To remove stubborn patches, apply a small amount of mineral oil and let it soak into the flakes for a few minutes before washing your baby’s head.

  • Step up your bath-time game. Treating cradle cap requires shampooing your baby’s head more frequently; once a day often does the trick. When the rash clears up, you can pull back to two or three times a week. Your pediatrician can prescribe a medicated shampoo if your regular shampoo is ineffective.

If you have any questions about managing cradle cap, or if the affected parts of your baby’s head start to look inflamed or feel warm—signs of infection—consult your pediatrician quickly. Otherwise, keep plugging away, and eventually you’ll get your baby’s precious, pristine scalp back.

Bathing and Your Baby’s Skin

New parents have to walk a fine line between bathing too much and too little, as the condition of baby’s skin is at stake.

On the one hand, regular whole-body cleanings—a step up from the comprehensive wipe-downs you give the diaper area with every changing—are important for baby’s health. The trick is not going overboard in terms of frequency. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, three baths a week may be enough until your baby reaches her first birthday. Bathe her more often, and you may rob the soft skin you love so much of needed moisture.

Sometimes, however, more frequent baths are necessary. If your baby has eczema, for example, experts recommend giving her short, lukewarm baths with minimal soap daily. No matter how often you bathe your little one, you should moisturize her skin afterward to keep it from drying out.

Did You Know?

> Cradle cap, which can occur anywhere on a baby’s body, including the face, neck and armpits, is also known as seborrheic dermatitis.


> If seborrheic dermatitis occurs in the folds of skin, keep an eye out for redness. This can be a sign of a yeast infection.


> Teenagers can develop seborrheic dermatitis, which manifests as dandruff.


McKenzie-Willamette Birthing Center offers a variety of services for expecting parents and postpartum support. Call (541) 741-4649 for more information or visit McKWeb.com.

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