What Is It?
Cradle cap, also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea, is a common ailment in newborns. It usually appears in babies anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months old.
It affects the scalp and is related to sebum production. Sebum is a natural waxy oil produced by the body to moisturize the skin and scalp; cradle cap may be caused by an overproduction of sebum or by fungus or bacteria present in the sebum; currently, no one really knows what causes cradle cap, but here are some possible causes (we do know it is not caused by poor hygiene):
- Mother’s hormones that remain in the baby’s system after birth. These are thought to stimulate the scalp to overproduce sebum. This would explain why cradle cap is most often seen in newborns and tends to clear up on its own.
- A bacteria imbalance in your baby’s gut. In adults, there is a balance in your digestive system between “good” bacteria and fungi. Normally during birth, the baby is exposed to the mother’s own bacteria and fungi while moving through the birth canal.
If your baby was delivered by C-section or received antibiotics during delivery, he or she may not have a full complement of “good” bacteria yet, resulting in an overload of yeast (fungus).
- A yeast infection, caused by the overload of fungi in your baby’s system, explained above. Since yeast is a fungus, anti-fungal or anti-dandruff treatments (specifically for babies, not adult-strength) can be useful.
- A weakened immune system. If you aren’t able to breastfeed your baby, he or she may be missing out on the immune-enhancing properties of breast milk. Consider donor milk or healthy formula as alternatives.
- Nutritional imbalances. Some believe that this disorder is related to deficiencies in biotin, B6, selenium, zinc, and/or manganese.
Symptoms and Traits
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:
- Dark patches/scaling on the scalp
- Oily or dry skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales (or dark scales, on dark skin)
- Skin flakes
- Mild redness
Classic cradle cap appears on the scalp, but these dry, scaly patches can also occur around the neck, armpits, groin, ears, eyelids, nose, etc. This disorder is not painful and should not cause any discomfort to your baby, though it is a bit unsightly.
The condition is also not contagious, so don’t worry if there’s a baby in your baby’s playgroup that has it; your child can’t catch this ailment from another baby.
Sometimes, baby hair loss will occur along with cradle cap. This is not abnormal; the hair will grow back once the rash clears up.
- Cradle cap normally clears up within a few days.
- Shampoo daily with a mild baby shampoo and gently brush the scalp with a soft brush (like a toothbrush) or fine-tooth comb to brush off (not pick at) the scaly patches.
- Try a medicated shampoo. This should only be necessary in severe cases. Here is one recommended shampoo, and here is another. Anti-dandruff baby shampoos may also be useful. Please note, not all sources agree that a medicated shampoo is necessary. Some people feel that these products are too harsh. Call your doctor before using anti-dandruff shampoo as this can irritate your baby’s eyes.
- Do Not: Pick at the Rash. This can lead to irritation and infection. Resist the temptation!
Many mothers swear by natural solutions to cradle cap. There are also dietary solutions that mom can take to help prevent or treat cradle crap.
- Nutritional Supplements for Mom: a breastfeeding mother might want to make sure to increase intake of certain nutrients, such as biotin, selenium, manganese, B6 and zinc. These are thought to help prevent and clear up cradle cap.
- Nutritional Supplements for Baby: if the baby is not being breastfed, increasing his or her intake of nutrients related to skin health can help prevent or clear up cradle cap. These include omega 3’s (found in wild-caught salmon, flax and chia seeds, and cod-liver oil) and vitamin D (found in butter, egg yolks and tuna).
- Herbal Remedies: some believe adding slippery elm to the baby’s bottle, or on the nipple if you’re breastfeeding, can soothe the digestive tract. Run this by your doctor first though, particularly if the baby is younger than 16 weeks.
- Topical Remedies: Massage olive oil, coconut oil or almond oil into your baby’s scalp to soften the flakes. Let sit for a few hours (up to overnight), gently brush the flakes off with a soft brush (like a toothbrush), and clean the rest of the oil off with a mild baby shampoo (this is a good treatment to apply shortly before a bath). Some others also swear by Vaseline on the baby’s scalp overnight, or shea butter, rubbed into the baby’s scalp and then slowly combed off.
When to See a Doctor
Cradle cap is not an illness and doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with your child. Stay calm, wait it out, try a few solutions and then call your doctor. Soon your child will be a toddler and cradle cap will be a thing of the past!