Your baby’s inability to control pooping and peeing, the fragility of their skin, and the unique environment of the diaper area are some of the factors that make skincare a headache for many parents. A baby’s skin lacks the maturity of adult skin, which reduces its ability to handle moisture effectively. This article aims to clear up some of the confusion about newborn skincare and give you straightforward recommendations that you can apply right away.
Lukewarm water baths (temperatures less than 98 degrees F) should be given during the first few weeks of life. In order to promote skin-to-skin with mommy, the first bath is usually given 4-6 hours after birth for a healthy full-term baby. In a low birth weight infant, bathing should be delayed until the umbilical cord has fallen off. Bathing your baby should last for 5 minutes maximum, because very long baths can over hydrate the skin making it susceptible to damage. Normal tap water is OK for a healthy, full-term baby but consider using sterile water if your baby is preterm or low birthweight. Soaps should definitely be avoided during the first weeks of life, because of the risk of irritation. You should bathe your baby in a warm room, and afterwards quickly and completely dry them from head to toe followed by wrapping them in a warm towel or swaddling them.
Cleansing is the process by which you remove dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells, sweat and other debris from your baby’s skin surface. Newborn skin is very sensitive to cleansers. Cleansers can be broadly categorized into two categories: alkaline (basic) soaps and neutral detergents. Again, soaps are a no-no for babies less than 1 year of age.
A cleanser usually continues a detergent, a skin conditioner like glycerine or mineral oil, fragrance, color and preservatives. Ideally, a baby cleanser should be fragrance and color free to avoid irritation.
Detergents act as a surfactant. Surfactants act to create a foaming action which dissolves impurities, and allows them to be removed from the skin. However, a cleanser that foams too much increases the risk of skin damage by damaging the most outer layer of skin called the stratum corneum. Additionally, heavily foaming cleansers can increase the pH of the skin surface, which can result in skin dryness, roughness, and flakiness.
Baby powder is helpful to avoid excess moisture in hot and humid weather and can reduce irritation in the skin folds. They should be used carefully in the newborn period, however, because excessive use can lead to blockage of the sweat ducts. Accidental inhalation of the powder is another concern.
Care of the diaper area:
The diaper area represents a moist, humid environment, which is prone to infections with bacteria and fungi. The skin is also in contact with urine and poop which has a high pH and can damage the skin’s integrity.
Frequently changing diapers, whether they are home laundered or store bought super-absorbent ones, is essential. The skin should be dried and aired out between diaper changes. If frequent changes are not possible, mineral oil can be used as a temporary barrier. The bottom should be wiped from front to back, especially in girls where contamination of the vagina area can lead to urinary tract infections. If diaper rash occurs, petrolatum jelly or zinc oxide containing pastes can be helpful.
Care of the Scalp
Application of mineral or vegetable oil limits the spread of cradle cap aka seborrheic dermatitis. Baby shampoos can also be used to remove crusts and scales from the scalp. However, shampoos should have minimal time in contact with the scalp to avoid irritation. The best cleansers are usually medium to long chain fatty acids such as lauryl sulfate, which help to remove dirt and debris. Just as soap has “foaming action”, lathering is as important for its visual effects as much as it is for cleaning. Short chain fatty acids such as cocamide diethonolamine is the most common lather producer and is safe for newborns. The pH of the shampoo should be close to that of tears so it doesn’t irritate baby’s eyes. Special ingredients such as ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, and selenium sulfide are sometimes added to treat cradle cap.
Moisturizers and Lubricants
An emollient in as agent that softens and smoothes the skin. They are also referred to as moisturizers and lubricants. They are essentially composed of fats, which may be from animal or vegetable origin. There are also mineral oils and some are from synthetic sources. Examples of emollients include:
Hydrocarbons – Vaseline, paraffin
Waxes – Bees wax, lanolin
Oils – mineral oil, vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and olive oil.
Emollients come in two “flavors”: oil in water (creams) or water in oil (ointments). Creams are usually preferred by parents because ointments can be messy, however ointments are more effective. Using emollients is a safe and effective way to decrease peeling and scaling, maintains the skin’s barrier function, and reduces irritation in the diaper area. They are particularly important if your child has a skin condition like eczema.
Other things to keep in mind
After birth of the newborn, the umbilical cord dries out and fall off within about a week. Topical medications are best avoided on the umbilical cord. Nails should be cut from time to time to keep them short and clean. Cotton swabs soaked in sterile water can be used to clean eyes gently.
In conclusion, your baby’s skin is susceptible and sensitive to irritation and infection. You can avoid problems by following the common sense advice outlined above. A lot of wisdom has been passed down through the years through different families in different cultures- do you have any home remedies or family secrets? We would love to hear about them in the comments section. Also, remember to share this article with other parents who may be interested.