Skin and Body Care
Your newborn’s skin is like a clean, virginal slate – unaffected by damaging sunrays or chemical pollutants. However, it doesn’t always look like porcelain in the first few weeks. The baby’s skin is still adjusting from being suddenly thrust from amniotic fluid to air, and many of the imperfections are either temporary or preventable.
This week you also might be taking care of other skin-related issues like properly cleaning the umbilical cord stump and treating a circumcised penis. (Speaking of circumcision, know what to expect if you’re planning on circumcising within the next few weeks. On the fence? Research all sides of the debate and weigh the pros and cons).
Here is what you might be concerned about in terms of skin care:
- Newborn acne
- Dry and peeling skin
- Diaper rash
- Blotchy red patches known as Erythema Toxicum
- Dandruff-looking flakes from your baby’s scalp, known as Cradle Cap.
- Birthmarks in all colors and sizes are quite normal. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns, but here’s a quick guide to what you might see:
- Hemangioma are soft, raised birthmarks – most commonly red, but also blue or purple. This is just a cluster of blood vessels that broke away from the circulatory system and should fade between the ages of five and 10. Unless there is an unusual complication (if the birthmark starts to bleed, becomes infected or interferes with your baby’s eyesight), there is usually no need for treatment.
- Salmon patches (also called stork bites or angel kisses) are flat, pink-colored marks usually on the forehead, eyelids, neck or around the mouth. The marks will typically fade within the first two years and usually disappear completely.
- Caf’-au-lait spots are brownish flat, smooth, oval birthmarks usually found on the lower half of the body – although they can turn up anywhere. They typically don’t disappear, but let your doctor know if your baby has 10 or more.
- Port-wine stains are a purple-red birthmarks made up of immature capillaries that usually get darker with time. Although these marks are normally permanent, a pulse-dyed laser can improve the appearance.
- Congenital pigmented nevi are moles (ranging from light brown to black) that can even have some hairs sprouting from them. Large ones (which are rare) have a greater chance of becoming malignant, so they might need to be removed or watched carefully by a dermatologist. Point out any moles to your doctor to be on the safe side.
- Mongolian spots look sort of like bruises and are extremely common in children of African, Indian or Asian descent, as well as those with Mediterranean ancestry. These ill-defined blue-grey marks usually appear on the buttocks and back.
Jaundice: Your baby’s newborn Oompa-Loompa look is most likely gone by now, but if not, here’s what you should know about jaundice:
The reason many newborns develop an orange-like skin hue is because their livers aren’t always equipped to process the extra bilirubin their bodies make for the birthing process, and the excess chemical is stored in the skin.
Make sure your doctor knows that the jaundice is still there, as the baby’s bilirubin levels have to be monitored.
Mild to moderate physiologic jaundice usually diminishes by the end of the first week, and even babies that were kept in the hospital for a couple of days are usually home by then. However, the jaundice might still be lingering for another week for preemies because their livers are less developed.
In some cases, breastfeeding can cause jaundice: If the baby isn’t getting enough fluid, it can be hard to get rid of the excess bilirubin, or something in some breast milk can keep the baby’s liver from adequately eliminating the chemical. If the latter is the case, keep in mind that while it’s most likely harmless, your doctor might advise formula-feeding for a couple of days, while you pump to maintain your milk supply.
If the baby develops a rare case of nonphysiologic jaundice – where the bilirubin levels increase rapidly – a blood transfusion, phototherapy or surgery might be necessary. Untreated, bilirubin could build up in the brain – a condition known as kernicterus – and cause brain damage or death.