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Managing Your Baby’s Hair

Baby hair can puff out, fall out, get curly, or change colors. Want to make sense of it all? Find out ways to easily treat cradle cap, wash a fussy baby’s hair, and learn about new ingredients to look for in shampoos.

Infant Hair Loss

Sometimes it’s a surprise to find that your baby, who was born with a full head of hair, is now experiencing some hair loss and thinning. This is something that happens to many babies, although the timing can differ. “It varies, either before delivery or right after birth during those first few weeks of life,” says Dr. Stephen Muething, MD, associate director of Clinical Services in General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The cause is relatively unknown, although it may have to do with hormone levels. Just as it disappears, new hair grows at varying times. “Some babies have a full head of hair shortly after they are born, but usually during the nine- to 12-month range you can begin to see hair growth. Although, some babies can go until their first birthday and still be bald,” says Dr. Muething.

Bald Spots

This is a relatively new problem pediatricians are encountering. “We are beginning to notice an increase in babies with a rubbing bald spot on the back of their heads from being continually placed on their backs. This type of baldness doesn’t cause any damage, however it can be helped,” says Dr. Muething.

Because parents are advised to always place sleeping babies on their backs to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), doctors are noticing a flattening of babies’ heads and patches of hair loss where babies continually rest their heads. “Now we are also recommending ‘tummy-time‘ when the baby is awake,” says Dr. Muething. “This decreases the hair loss and also prevents flattening of the head. It is better to start early, right from the start placing baby on her stomach. Babies then become accustomed to this position and actually enjoy it,” Dr. Muething continues. “It helps for moms to get down to the baby’s level so [Baby] can see Mom’s face.”

The Scoop on Cradle Cap

Your baby probably has cradle cap if you notice scaling skin on his scalp that often flakes off. Babies between six to 12 months generally are the most prone to this condition, which usually is rather mild and does not pose any harm. It is absolutely fine not to do anything about this skin condition, says Dr. Muething. He adds that parents, not babies, are often the most bothered by cradle cap.

There are several simple treatments that can help remove the dryness of cradle cap. “Many babies with cradle cap can be helped by simply massaging the scalp, routinely using shampoo before rinsing well, and ensuring that the hair is washed at least every other day. The addition of mineral oil to the scalp at the site of cradle cap to soften the scale prior to washing may also be helpful,” says Dr. Amy S. Paller, MD, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University and member of the Dermatology Department at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. For severe cradle cap, parents should consult with their child’s pediatrician. “Scalp eczema, scalp psoriasis, and even a rare disorder called histiocytosis may masquerade as cradle cap in babies,” adds Dr. Paller.

Still No Hair!

Don’t focus on the hair, look to the scalp for answers. “If the scalp looks healthy, the hair loss is just a normal part of being a baby. A healthy scalp looks soft, with no scaling, redness, or oozing. If these symptoms occur it is best to discuss them with your baby’s pediatrician who can prescribe a topical ointment,” reports Dr. Paller. She adds that if hair growth is still sparse by age two, a doctor should look into the cause.

Hair Texture and Color Changes

Genetics play a huge role in determining hair texture and color. Think back to your own baby pictures and look at your hair now. This may give you a clue as to how your child’s hair will change.

Typically baby hair curls more easily than adult hair because it is much thinner and has less weight. “Color of both hair and skin often darkens during the first two to three years of life. Often hair in the baby is much finer than it is in the older child or adult,” adds Dr. Paller.

Hair Washing Made Easier

What’s the trick to washing your tot’s hair? “In one word, distraction,” says Dr. Muething. “Don’t make a big deal out of washing the hair. Let the child play, sing to them, and while they are playing, gently wash and rinse their hair. Bathtub visors are available to keep the bubbles out of your child’s face. Try using a detachable showerhead, which a toddler might find fascinating, or a damp cloth rather than running water.

In general, most babies do not like to get water in their faces. Set aside plenty of time for a bath during these fussy stages and practice patience. Continually talking in a calm, encouraging tone will let you baby or child feel there is nothing to be frightened of.

Detangling Those Curls

“Using a conditioner on hair is always a good idea after shampooing, as it decreases trauma from brushing or combing,” says Dr. Paller. Specially designed kid-friendly, two-in-one shampoo and conditioners are now widely available. However, Dr. Muething advises, “Parents should not overdo washing their children’s hair. In general use less soap. Baths can become long playtimes, and typically parents will wash their children first and then let them play. It’s better to have the bath play first and then save using the soap until the end of the bath.”

The Best Shampoo for Baby

Shampoos designed for babies and children also usually state on the package “tear-free.” These shampoos use a mild detergent that will not sting the eyes. Aside from this standard, shampoos now are being designed with natural ingredients, such as extra-mild botanical surfactants, essential oils, and Jojoba oil. Specially scented shampoos with ingredients like lavender or chamomile are supposed to produce a soothing effect on the baby or toddler.

First Haircuts

When should you schedule that pinnacle first haircut? “When needed,” answers Dr. Paller. There’s really no rush. Cutting it during the first few years won’t change the health of the hair, so it is merely a style choice.

“Given the range of how fast hair can grow in children and the desire to have hair different length, the guideline should be when the hair starts to get too long or gets straggly,” suggests Dr. Paller. If you don’t feel comfortable with scissors and a toddler that won’t sit still, there are many hair salons that specialize in children’s hair styling, with kid-friendly furniture, balloons, and silly themed rooms.

Styling a Little One’s Hair

“Occasionally moms try to do certain styles, such as braids and pigtails, that can actually damage the hair. Hair in young children is more sensitive, and sometimes little ones can get hair loss from hairstyles that pull too tightly or are in place for a long period of time,” says Dr. Muething.

Many disorders can result from manipulation of the hair (such as traction alopecia, in which tight braids or other hair styling can lead to hair loss at the sites of the greatest tension) or treatment with chemicals,” adds Dr. Paller. “Children should have simple styles and avoid excessive manipulation or treatments.”

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