Every new mom loves snapping loads of photos of her new little munchkin, but when Rhonda Bell-Allen’s son Curtis had a particularly nasty bout of eczema at just three weeks of age, the Barrie, Ont., mom of two admits that she put away her camera. “There are hardly any pictures of him from that time. I guess I subconsciously knew that it looked horrible on him, and I just didn’t photograph the poor kid.”
Dr. Adam Mamelak, division head, dermatology, at The Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., says there’s a lot of stress when mothers get their newborn children home and they develop a skin condition. “They’re unique in that they’re visible both to you and to the public. So when you’re showing off your newborn to family and friends, there tends to be a lot of worry.” And it’s not just about appearances—Dr. Mamelak notes that many parents are concerned that cysts or scaly skin on the surface indicate a systemic, internal problem. He assures parents that the conditions are not life-threatening, can be treated, will often pass on their own, and are very, very common. Eczema, for example, affects one out of every five newborns. “I think of many of these conditions as developmental, they come up because the skin is maturing, and will resolve once it reaches maturation,” says Dr. Mamelak.
Here are four skin ailments frequently found in newborns, and what to do about them.
Symptoms: Tiny white bumps that gather just under the surface of the skin—often around the eyes, bridge of the nose and cheeks
Appears: First few weeks but will disappear by two months of age
Treatment: Milia are a maturational condition that generally does not require treatment. Do not apply oils or creams to them. While unsightly, milia are simply blocked pores that are not painful for your baby.
Symptoms: Oily, yellow scales on the scalp
Appears: First few weeks of life but can last for several months
Treatment: A form of seborrheic dermatitis, which can also affect a newborn’s face and diaper area, “cradle cap” is a scaly reaction on the scalp that often accompanies baby’s first hair loss. Apply a simple mineral oil to your child’s scalp to soften the scales before washing and use a fine-toothed comb to gently remove the crusty build-up. In severe cases, Dr. Mamelak advises parents to use an anti-sebborheic (dandruff) shampoo and will sometimes prescribe a mild topical steroid for inflamed patches.
Symptoms: Small red bumps or pimples
Appears: Between two to four weeks of age
Treatment: Caused by maternal hormones passed to the baby in utero, baby acne will usually resolve on its own by four to six months of age (just wash and pat face dry as normal). In the rare, severe cases when he fears that scarring may occur, Dr. Mamelak prescribes a very mild benzoyl peroxide treatment, which is rubbed onto the skin. Do not try to pop or squeeze them, as this can lead to infection.
Symptoms: Red, dry and itchy scaly patches
Appears: Before six months of age
Treatment: Babies affected by eczema lack the ability to hold water in their skin, meaning that anything at all can make their dehydrated skin itch and burn. Thus, the best way to address it is to re-hydrate the skin with moisturizers and emollients. Dr. Mamelak recommends thick, white, greasy creams such as petroleum jelly, which should be applied several times a day. “Frequent baths are helpful in certain situations, but in the harsh winters in Canada, bathing can often contribute to the skin irritation. I typically recommend skipping baths so that they are done every other day. This preserves the natural protective oils in the skin and helps the eczema.” Immediately after the bath is the best time to apply moisturizers, says Dr. Mamelak. The skin should be patted dry and the moisturizer or emollient should be applied. You can also try placing a humidifier in your child’s bedroom, and steer clear of fabrics that can irritate (such as wool). In severe cases, a doctor can prescribe a topical steroid.