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Cradle cap is very common and occurs in 70% of babies according PubMed Health. My son had cradle cap that spread from his forehead and eyebrows to all over his head. As a first-time mom, experiencing baby cradle cap for the first time was worrisome. I thought something was wrong or that it was my fault. If the lack of sleep was not enough, this added on another level of stress.
As a first-time mom there are many things we worry about for our newborn baby. Especially if you see scaly or flaky skin on their scalp, face, or other areas. This is called cradle cap, which is usually harmless and will eventually go away on its own. If you want to speed up the process there are home treatment that could help get rid of cradle cap faster.
What is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap is like the baby version of dandruff, which causes the baby’s scalp to become dry, rough, and scaly. They will be in smaller patches or it will cover the whole head (this was what my son had).
As a first-time mom, it might be worrisome to see thick and scaly patches on your baby’s head, but cradle cap is harmless and common in babies up to 3 months of age but can persist until they are 1 year old or in rare cases longer.
Also, cradle cap generally doesn’t bother the baby unless it’s very severe or en entirely different condition.
What Causes Cradle Cap
The causes are unknown but doctors speculate it might be due to the mother’s hormones that causes an overproduction of the oil glands within the baby hair follicles.
Another guess would be due to yeast (fungus) called malassezia. They like to grow within the oil glands with bacteria, thus making it harder to treat. Your baby might need ketoconazole shampoo to help combat the yeast.
Fortunately, cradle cap is not cause by poor hygiene and is not contagious. So, you’re not doing anything wrong mama!
What to look for?
Here are some characteristics of cradle cap:
- Crusty, flaky, thick skin (dandruff)
- Patches of greasy or dry skin that are in white or yellow patches
- They will appear mainly on the baby’s scalp, but can sometimes extend down to the ears, eyebrows, eyelids, nose creases, back of neck, groin, or underarm
There are rare cases where the cradle cap will cause the skin to become red and itchy. Also, be ready to have small patches of hair come out with the flaky skin patches. But do not worry, the hair will grow back after treatment.
Cradle Cap Treatment
First, please DO NOT pick your baby’s cradle cap. I know it’s really tempting but this can cause redness, pain and lead to infections. Would you like it if someone picked your fresh scab? I think not!
This is an important step in getting rid of your baby’s cradle cap. Remember that cradle cap is not cause by poor hygiene, therefore, you should not bathe your baby more than once a day. Frequent bath can further dry out the skin and cause an increase in oil production, which worsen cradle cap or actually be the cause of your baby’s cradle cap in the first place.
Cradle Cap Shampoo
Use a mild baby shampoo to lather your baby’s hair. My pediatrician recommended Baby Dove Shampoo over Johnson & Johnson (which I was using at the time).
Or you could buy shampoo that are made specifically for cradle cap such as the Mustela Foam Shampoo. This one has great reviews and was recommended by many mom within my groups.
There are other mild shampoo options as well. Sarah from my Well Being Kid has a great blog article about the Top 5 Shampoo for Cradle Cap that lays out the pros and cons of each item. This would be a great resource to check out if you are in the market for buying a specific cradle cap shampoo.
Cradle Cap Brush
In addition to a gentle baby shampoo, you would also need a cradle cap brush or comb. Any fine-tooth comb will do the job.
Silicone Brush by FridaBaby has great reviews for daily and cradle cap use as well.
The one I used for my baby was very effective, which my mom brought over when she visited Vietnam. The original function of this wooden fine-tooth comb (here’s a similar comb one but plastic) was used for lice but it does the job beautifully when extracting the patches off my son’s head. Amazon has a similar one but it’s plastic.
Pure and Natural Oils
Sometimes using a soft brush might not be enough, which then you can add a few drops of a natural oil. I like to use organic coconut oil since it has anti-fungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties but baby oil or extra virgin olive oil are good options as well.
After using the oil make sure to wash it off thoroughly because it can block the oil glands, which can worsen the cradle cap.
A humidifier is a must have item for your baby since it helps relieve dry and irritated skin by producing moisture in the air. Not only is a humidifier great for the skin but it also helps for congestion and coughing during a cold.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the use of a cool mist humidifier over warm-mist vaporizer because warm mist can promote the growth of bacteria and the steam produced can easily cause burns if your child tips it over or get too close.
I would recommend having one in the nursery or where your baby sleeps.
A over the counter topical steroid like hydrocortisone 1% might be prescribed by your pediatrician if the cradle cap becomes harder to treat or inflamed. However, I would strongly recommend consulting with your pediatrician or a nurse at your pediatrician office before using hydrocortisone.
- If the patches are stubborn then massage a natural oil (ex. organic coconut oil) 15 – 20 mins before applying shampoo. (OPTIONAL)
- Lather baby’s scalp with mild shampoo
- Use the cradle cap brush or fine-tooth comb and massage the scalp gently to loosen or take off the scaly patches. Make sure to go easy as it can cause the areas to become pink and raw if too much is taken off at once.
- Thoroughly rinse with water (especially if an oil is used)
- Repeat daily
My son had cradle cap on his forehead and eyebrows for a few months. After I got rid of that he got it on his head, which I did not notice at first because he has a lot of hair.
For the forehead and eyebrows, I would rub coconut oil and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then I used a Q-tip and rub it back and forth a few times. If the cradle cap did not come off then I would wait for a few more minutes and try it again.
I would recommend spreading out the treatment over several days because the skin underneath can become pink and raw. Thus, you do not want to overdo it with your treatment.
Prevent Cradle Cap
When most of your baby’s cradle cap is under control, it is best to wash your baby’s hair gently with a mild shampoo and soft brush as often as allowed. Your pediatrician might recommend a stronger shampoo if they see fit.
- Bathe and wash hair daily or every other day depending on baby skin needs
- Use cradle cap brush or comb to prevent oil build up on the scalp.
- Use a mild shampoo two to three time a week. (According to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) babies only need water to take care of their skin).
When to Contact the Pediatrician!
Even though cradle cap is harmless it wouldn’t hurt to mention it to your pediatrician or call in to the nurse line to ask them their opinions and advice on what to do go and where to go from there.
When to contact your pediatrician?
- First time treatment of cradle cap (you want to confirm that it’s actually cradle cap).
- Most home treatments have failed.
- The areas affected seems to getting worse (looks red, irritated or infected).
- Liquid oozing from the patches.
- Severe hair loss or itchiness.
- Have questions concerning what to do.
Just always remember to ask your doctor if you are not sure because it is better to be safe than sorry.
Also, your piece of mind might is important too because as parents we already have too much to worry about.
I hope this information helps you and remember that you are not alone. Also, be patient and treat it gently because it might take a couple of weeks or more to go away. Use this moment bond with your little one and cherish it.