Have you noticed dry, flaky, scab-like skin on your newborn baby’s head, hair or eyebrows? If you have searched images of “flaky skin on newborn hair,” a wide variety of images pop up, some that look scary. But don’t fret, that dry skin is most likely due to seborrheic dermatitis, or more commonly called cradle cap.
What is Cradle Cap?
Cradle cap, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is a skin condition sometimes seen in newborns and babies up to 12 months of age. It is characterized by yellow-ish, dry skin or crust-like spots on the skin of the head or eyebrows. Cradle cap is generally caused by excessive production of sebum (oily secretion). Some describe cradle cap like dandruff but with larger and crusty skin flakes. Cradle cap normally goes away on its own by the age of 12 months and does not leave scars, nor does it cause hair loss or balding. Most importantly, cradle cap is not caused by poor hygiene.
Is Cradle Cap Contagious or Painful to the Baby?
Although cradle cap may look unpleasant and uncomfortable for your baby, it rarely is. Cradle cap does not seem to bother infants. Cradle cap is also NOT contagious. At your baby’s wellness check-up, tell your healthcare provider about the cradle cap and any worries you may have. If it gets worse, or becomes red, inflamed and oozing, make an appointment right away.
Cradle Cap and Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
During pregnancy, moms need to increase their intake of essential fatty acids like Omega-3 fats containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha linolenic acid (ALA) for healthy brain, eyes and much more. A baby born from a mother with an essential fatty acid deficiency is at a higher risk for skin conditions like cradle cap, psoriasis and eczema.
We hear a lot about DHA during pregnancy, but we cannot forget about the other essential fatty acids like omega-6, gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA). In healthy people GLA is made from the food you eat through the conversion of LA into GLA and it is important for healthy skin. Some individuals are not able to convert LA to GLA and they must supplement to avoid symptoms of deficiency, including cradle cap, eczema and dry skin. Along with other skin conditions, essential fatty acids, GLA deficiency in particular, can be a major contributing factor to cradle cap.
A pregnant or breastfeeding mother should increase their dietary intake of essential fatty acids. If a baby is formula-fed, choose a formula that contains essential fatty acids —and thankfully some formulas even contain probiotics. If you have a family history of eczema ensure you supplement with essential fatty acids while pregnant. You can find GLA in plant foods, think Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, and Black Currant Oil, you can also find GLA at your health food store. The most significant source of GLA for infants is breast milk.
Click Here to Read my Article “Did You Know Your Child’s Brain is Made up of 60% FAT? And That Fat Makes Them Smart!
Cradle Cap and Gut Health
It seems like almost every week there is an article published about the benefits of a healthy gut, or the gut-brain connection, and the connection between allergies and gut health. The research is getting stronger that we need to ensure we have healthy gut flora to fight disease, allergies, depression, and ward off colds and flu. So it makes complete sense that the health of our gut correlates to the health of our skin as our gut is an extension of our skin.
From the moment a baby is born and enters the world, their gut flora starts developing. A baby born via vaginal delivery is exposed to the mother’s gut flora as the baby passes through the birth canal providing them with a wealth of good flora. Whereas a baby born via C-section is not. Also, if the mother is given antibiotics for a positive group B strep (or any other issue) during pregnancy or delivery, there can be a reduction of the good gut flora transferred to the baby.
Colostrum, the ‘liquid gold’ that is secreted prior to breast milk, provides the foundation for your baby’s gut flora. If your newborn baby isn’t able to receive colostrum or breast milk, they need to be given infant probiotics.
Cradle Cap and Yeast Overgrowth?
Another possible contributing factor to cradle cap is a type of naturally occurring yeast called Malassezia. If there is an overgrowth of Malassezia, cradle cap could develop. Family physicians often prescribe a steroid cream for cradle cap. Before heading to the doctors office, and ultimately being prescribed a steroid based cream, reach for a probiotic for mom and baby and try the five steps I have outlined below.
How do you treat Cradle Cap?
- Avoid over-washing.Wash hair a maximum of once a day. Babies can go 2 to 3 days without washing their hair. But if an evening bath is part of your nighttime routine, just skip washing your baby’s hair for several nights. When you do wash their hair, make sure it fully dries before going to bed.
- Dietary changes. This goes for breastfed moms and baby. Mom should be taking a probiotic and eating healthy essential fatty acids like DHA and GLA. These nutrients are passed on through breast milk and have great benefits for mom. You can give your child an infant probiotic and, if old enough, introduce foods high in healthy fats – check out my Healthy Fats article. If your baby is formula-fed the cradle cap may be due to an allergic response to a particular brand or base that the formula is made with so try alternatives. Avoid soy whenever possible.
- Choose baby soap and shampoo wisely. Not all baby shampoos and soaps are created equal. With my oldest daughter, we had to try a few before we found one her skin agreed with. I stayed with Weleda Calendula shampoo for all three girls until 12-18 months. The Environmental Working Group EWG has a listing of safe products. You can even check out the products you already have at home on the Environmental Working Group website and see where they stand
- Oil and a brush: Apply and gently massage a vegetable-based oil, like Borage oil (which is rich in GLA), or better yet, apply breast milk into dry, crusty skin. Gently brush out the skin flakes. Avoid the urge to pick off the flakes while you are nursing baby. Do not pick or cause open wounds. If there are some sore looking areas you can apply lanolin cream to those spots (same as you would for cracked nipples).
- Try a humidifier in your house to help with overall dry skin, this benefits the entire family.
Cradle cap may not be the prettiest addition to your baby photos, but do not worry, it can easily be fixed with these simple steps and a little time. Making these changes to your diet and home can do more than just help cradle cap they are beneficial for overall mom and baby health.