Parents worry about everything; it’s basically a part of the job description. When you first bring a new baby home, it’s normal to be anxious about… well, just about everything. Is he eating enough? Is she having the right amount of wet diapers during the day? Why isn’t he sleeping through the night yet? Is she sleeping too much? Is he too hot? Is she too cold? Worrying about these things is perfectly normal and happens to nearly every new parent.
That said, unexpected, unfamiliar things are going to pop up every once in a while. A lot of them are things that you may not have even heard of before having a baby. When something that you think is abnormal happens, the immediate reaction is to worry even more. One of the things that might cause you distress when you have a newborn is something called cradle cap.
While it looks a bit intimidating, there’s really nothing to worry about if your infant develops cradle cap. It’s a relatively common ailment that will eventually take care of itself. Because we know you’re still going to worry, though, we wanted to make sure you had the information you needed to make sense of what’s going on when your baby gets cradle cap. So, here’s some information to help you deal with cradle cap and keep your cool.
What Is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is a scaly rash that can appear in large patches on the scalps of newborns and young infants. It happens in babies as young as 1 month old but the most common age that’s affected is 3-months old.
Cradle cap presents as thick, yellowish scales that look a little oily. Sometimes it appears in a few large patches while other times it can cover the whole scalp. In normal cases, it’s safe and doesn’t cause any discomfort. The truth is that your little one probably isn’t bothered by it at all!
To help put your mind at ease, you should know that it is not contagious. It also does not reflect on your parenting ability or how well your baby is taken care of. When it comes to babies, there are a lot of things that are out of your control. Cradle cap is one of them.
What Causes Cradle Cap in Babies?
Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. While there isn’t any conclusive information about what does cause cradle cap, we do know what doesn’t cause it. It’s not caused by an allergy or a bacterial infection or by bad hygiene. To set your mind at ease, remember, cradle cap was not caused by anything you did or didn’t do.
It’s possible that cradle cap is the result of overactive sebaceous glands. These glands are normally responsible for secreting an oily substance called “sebum” that protects the skin. Some hormones from the mother linger for a while in newborns after birth. It’s thought that these left over hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands into overproduction. The theory goes that if the sebaceous glands on the scalp produce too much sebum, skin cells aren’t able to dry and fall off as they normally would. Instead, build up occurs. Patches soon form and get larger over time.
There are other factors believed to be involved as well. Yeast that lives naturally on the skin may play a part. Other potential contributors could be dry weather, irritants, stress, and genetic.
How Long Does Cradle Cap Last?
Unfortunately, cradle cap can last for a long time. While it can resolve in a few weeks, there’s a chance that it could last as long as a few months. So, what’s the good news? It’s rare in children over 1 year old so you can rest assured that it will resolve eventually.
There’s nothing you can to do shorten the duration of cradle cap. You really just have to take a “wait and see” approach while you wait for it to go away. That’s why it’s important to remember that it isn’t bothering your baby at all. It’s not itchy or uncomfortable. In fact, your little one probably doesn’t even know it’s there.
How to Remove Cradle Cap
There’s no cure for cradle cap, it’s just eventually goes away on its own. You and your baby will just have to wait it out together. That said, there are a few things you can do to try to remove the large dry scaly patches:
- Olive oil for cradle cap. One thing you can do to help loosen cradle cap is use olive oil. The best thing to do is rub it into your baby’s scalp and then cover it with a warm washcloth. Let it sit for a while but make sure the water is not too hot. The heat will help the oil penetrate the dry scaly patches which makes them softer and easier to remove. If you don’t want to use olive oil, you can also use coconut oil for cradle cap in the same way.
- Shampoo for cradle cap. There are a lot of over-the-counter baby shampoos that can help remove cradle cap. One thing you should look for is that the formula is tear free. Also, make sure you choose a formula that is hypoallergenic.
One thing you should know is that after you start using a special shampoo to remove cradle cap, it might look worse before it starts getting better. That’s because the shampoo will help remove dry skin on the scalp that hasn’t started to form patches yet.
- Cradle cap comb. Any oils you try will be more effective if you use them in conjunction with a comb designed to remove cradle cap. These special combs are small and have very fine teeth that are very close together. These fine teeth help get through your baby’s hair to make sure you’re getting as much of the cradle cap as you can.
Here’s a few tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of these interventions.
- Put oils on before shampooing. The oil will have a chance to penetrate the dry patches so that they’re more likely to come off while you’re shampooing. Plus, shampooing washes away the oil which can actually lead to more scales developing if left on.
- Use the comb right after shampooing as the scales will be easier to remove at that time.
The scales will disappear on their own in a few weeks or months. Continue to use the oil, shampoo, and comb as needed to prevent the dry patches from returning and getting too large.
How to Prevent Cradle Cap
Because there’s no conclusive cause of cradle cap, there’s nothing you can really do to prevent it from happening in the first place. One it’s developed, though, following the steps outlined above will help keep it under control while it works its way out of your baby’s system.
When to Call the Doctor
While it is true that cradle cap will go away on its own, there are some complications to watch out for. If you notice any of the following, contact your baby’s pediatrician:
- Areas of the scalp turn red
- Dry patches significantly change in appearance
- Skin on the face or other parts of the body becomes affected
- Signs of an ear infections
- Moderate to severe diaper rash
- Cracks or bleeding
Any of these things can indicate that there is something else going on and it’s best to see a doctor. He or she may tell you to use a stronger shampoo or prescribe an antibiotic if there are any signs of infection.
Things to Remember
There are plenty of things to worry about when you have a baby. Any parent will tell you it’s perfectly normal to worry about every single one of them. That said, cradle cap is something that shouldn’t add to your new parent anxiety. There’s nothing that you did to cause it and nothing you can do to cure it. While it might look pretty nasty before treatment, rest easy in the fact that it isn’t bothering your little one at all.
The best thing you can do is treat the symptoms. Use oils, shampoos, and combs to help you control the prevalence of dry patches. Watch out for any changes or complications but don’t stress too much about it. Those early months are gone so fast, you don’t want to worry them away.