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What You Need to Know About Cradle Cap on Baby

Mom in white shirt gazing at baby

Uh-oh. You see something on your baby’s head. Should you be worried? Did you cause it? What should you do about it? Or is it just cradle cap?

Who gets cradle cap?

Usually the term “cradle cap” refers to the condition on a baby, but adults can have it too.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is the colloquial term for for seborrheic dermatitis.

Seborrhea refers to a discharge of sebaceous matter, from the Latin sebo- or sebum meaning grease, and the Greek rhoia, which means to flow. Hence, seborrhea is an oily flow.

In infants, it’s commonly called cradle cap or sometimes cristae lactea, but there are other terms, as well. In adults, it’s more often called dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, seborrhea, seborrheic eczema, and seborrheic psoriasis. All of those are a little different, but they are very similar.

The causes of cradle cap are unknown. There are some possible theories. These include maternal hormones, a special strain of candida (“yeast”) and immunodeficiency.

However, contrary to common myth, it is NOT cause by not caused by poor hygiene, an allergic reaction, or a bacterial infection.

Where does cradle cap appear?

Cradle cap doesn’t just appear on the head. That’s predominant location, but it can be elsewhere, too. For example, I may be behind the ears.  

What happens as a result of cradle cap?

In some odd instances, scaly, irritated patches can get infected. Excessive scratching from fingernails, and irritation from clothing or bedding can cause infections. And, if the the skin is inflamed or infected, it can be painful.

DOs: Take some simple actions

I’ve seen many parents who are overly gentle with their baby’s head. You can use an expensive shampoo, but honestly, for years in the hospital we used liquid castile soap, which I think works great. (I routinely use it for washing my own hands.) Massage your baby’s scalp, and use a soft brush on the scalp, too. I’ve done all of these things on many babies who are only a few days old.

If you are breastfeeding, consider taking a Vitamin B supplement yourself. There are many recommendations on the Internet for this, but honestly, I cannot find an actual research study to substantiate this recommendation. On the other hand, many women can be deficient in the B vitamins, especially in during the childbearing, so this might be worth exploring. I would strongly suggest talking to a registered dietitian or a licensed naturopathic physician.

Skin and hair that is dry from the environment can be problematic. Consider using a humidifier in the baby’s room, because the moisture can be helpful.

You can also try squirting some of your milk onto the baby’s head where the cradle cap is. People have done this, and say it works. Again, I want to be careful to say that there’s talk, and there are reports, but I’m unaware of a study to prove that it’s helpful.

However, I’d be quick to present the flip side of that. First, who would fund such a study? And second, maybe it won’t do any good, but how could it possibly do any harm?

You might also want to try using some coconut oil on the cradle cap. Coconut oil is famous for its antifungal properties, as well as other protective properties. I’ve used it on my own skin for dermatitis, and while it might not work “enough,” it has certainly helped.

Some people use hydrocortisone cream. I am not eager to suggest this. If you want to do it, talk with the doctor first. I’m probably overly cautious, but hydrocortisone is pretty powerful.  

There are several cradle cap specific products. If it were my baby, my first choice would be the products made by Mustela.  

DON’Ts: Avoid these actions

Ah yes. You know that if I’m suggesting some “dos” I’ll want to mention some “don’ts,” too!

One credible source recommends bathing and shampooing the baby once a day. Okay. However, I would discourage bathing or shampooing the baby more than once a day. It can cause skin to dry out. I’m NOT a fan of regular baby oil, since it can breed germs.

Beware of home remedies recommended by friends. For example, don’t pour undiluted vinegar on your baby’s head.

In summary, try to remember that you’re not to blame for your baby having cradle cap. It’s a self-limiting condition, and usually resolves within a matter of months. There are some simple remedies you can try, but you should rely on professional advice for pharmaceutical products if the condition persists.

Has your baby had cradle cap? What did you find helpful? Share your comments below!

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