Why Do Babies Get Cradle Cap? (Here’s What You Need To Know)

Babe In Dreamland - Why Do Babies Get Cradle Cap? (Here’s What You Need To Know)

Have you noticed that the scalp of your gorgeous cutie pie is thickly coated with greasy scales?

Yep, it’s gross.

If these symptoms seem familiar to you – rest assured – it’s just a cradle cap.

Cradle cap is a common skin condition that affects nearly half of newborns.

So, there is a very high possibility that your baby will develop it at some point during the first year of life.

Don’t panic – it is not dangerous and will not cause any discomfort to your little one. And it usually resolves by itself too.

So, let me put your mind at ease by explaining everything you need to know about a cradle cap and why do babies get it.

Why Do Babies Get Cradle Cap?

A cradle cap affects most newborn babies. Scientists aren’t quite sure why it occurs. The two most likely hypotheses are either excessive sebaceous glands caused by maternal hormones or a yeast imbalance caused by Malassezia. Usually, the condition appears as yellow, greasy, scaly skin patches on the baby’s scalp. Sometimes the scaly patches may spread to other body parts – face, elbows, knees or nappy area. It is possible to mistake this condition for other skin problems that show similar symptoms. Examples include eczema, psoriasis, and diaper rash.

1. What Is Cradle Cap?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a scientific name for cradle cap. A few facts about the condition:

  • This condition affects newborn babies up to age 12 months.
  • The main symptoms of cradle cap are crusty yellow, waxy scales that stick to the head – hence the name.
  • If the problem is more severe, these may spread to other areas – eyebrows, forehead, nose, behind the ears, neck folds.
  • Sometimes it also occurs in the nappy area, especially around the groin. The baby’s bottom may turn red, inflamed, and flaky in such cases.
  • Hair can fall off with the crusty build-up. But, rest assured – it will grow back surely!
  • Seborrheic dermatitis is neither dangerous nor contagious.
  • Although it might appear uncomfortable to your baby, in fact, it isn’t itchy or painful.
  • It usually does not interfere with feeding or sleep patterns either.

2. What Causes Cradle Cap?

The exact cause of infantile seborrheic dermatitis is not certain, but it is believed to be triggered by two factors: excessive skin oil or yeast infection of the baby scalp called Malassezia.

2.1 Excessive Skin Oil

That is one of the most popular theories as to the root cause of cradle cap.

So, according to this during the early stages of life, some residual hormones from the mother are still present in newborn babies’ bodies.

These hormones cause the hyperactivity of the sebaceous glands, which produce sebum – an oil-like substance. As a result of their high activity level, they release more skin oil than is normal, interfering with a baby’s natural skin shedding process.

As a result, the baby’s scalp becomes covered with dead skin, which looks like a yellow, greasy, flaky crust – a cradle cap.

As the baby grows, maternal hormones begin to subside, and skin oil production returns to normal. That’s when the cradle cap resolves, and it never comes back in this form. It may reappear as dandruff later on in life.

2.2 Malassezia

Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that colonizes the skin rich in sebaceous glands and hair follicles.

If the fungus starts to grow excessively, it causes inflammation. The affected area becomes covered by greasy patches of sebum and dead skin.

Malassezia can be treated effectively with topical or antifungal medications.

3. How To Treat Cradle Cap?

Nearly always the cradle cap will resolve spontaneously. You could, therefore, leave it alone if you wish.

However, you could help clear the crusty scales by washing your baby’s affected areas at least once a day. Use mild baby shampoo and gently massage the scalp with fingertips to remove the crust.

Some people add breast milk to the shampoo and use this mixture for treating skin.

The cradle cap brushes also work well for gently brushing a baby’s scalp and removing some scales.

But, make sure not to pick the crust or force it to come out. It may irritate the skin and cause bleeding or infection.

The crust can be softened using baby oil, vegetable oil, or petroleum jelly (Vaseline) before the bath if it seems particularly thick and adherent. You could also add oil to the bathtub.

When the crusts do not heal after a few weeks of treatment you should see a doctor for advice.

You may get a prescription for an anti-dandruff shampoo, steroid cream or anti-yeast cream to treat the condition. 

5 Natural Ways to Cure Cradle Cap Fast!

4. Can I Prevent Cradle Cap?

It is difficult to identify how to prevent a cradle cap since there is still very scant definitive information on it.

Proper care of the scalp, however, may help to prevent this condition from developing. This is because the excess oil and dead skin are removed before the build-up forms

Ensure that the scalp is washed daily using baby shampoo or a prescription shampoo if needed. 

5. When Should I Call A Doctor?

Generally, a cradle cap doesn’t require medical attention or special treatment. But, in the following situations, you should seek medical advice:

  • The skin under the crust appears infected, leaks fluid, swells or is warm to touch,
  • The baby seems irritated by the crust and is scratching it,
  • The crust spread to other parts of the body,
  • When the symptoms don’t seem to get better after a few weeks of treatment,
  • To check for other skin conditions which have similar symptoms such as eczema, nappy rash, psoriasis.

6. Skin Conditions That Are Similar To Cradle Cap

Other skin conditions can easily be mistaken for cradle cap. This is particularly true if the problem extends to areas other than the scalp. Hence, in such cases, it is worth consulting a doctor.

6.1. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

Eczema can affect children of any age. The main symptoms include patches of dry, scaly, irritated skin, inflammation of affected areas and change of colour to lighter, dark brown, grey or purple.

Usually, it appears on the scalp, face, elbows, and knees.

It is a chronic condition but can subside over time or even go away altogether.

Atopic dermatitis may develop if your baby is severely affected by the cradle cap. Those with a family history of allergies, such as asthma or hay fever, are at greater risk.

The main difference between cradle cap and eczema is that the affected skin tends to be itchy or inflamed. Eczema may also interfere with your baby’s feeding and sleeping habits.

Often it can be triggered by soaps, weather or food allergies.

Treatment of atopic dermatitis is focused on relieving the symptoms, avoiding triggers and controlling scratching. Unfortunately, babies may have a hard time curbing their scratching.

6.2 Diaper Dermatitis (Nappy Rash)

Nappy rash is an inflammatory reaction of the skin in the nappy area.

It is quite common in young babies and affects about 25% of them.

The main symptoms include redness and skin irritation. Also, the infected area is warm to the touch, sometimes covered by pimples or blisters.

Nappy rash is usually present in the creases of the tights, groins, buttocks and genitalia.

It might be itchy and painful and cause discomfort in the baby.

Treatment of nappy rash involves ensuring the skin in the nappy is clean and dry.

So frequent changes of nappy, daily bath, nappy-free time to help heal the skin and applying barrier cream or over the counter nappy rash cream to protect the skin.

The symptoms of nappy rash usually clear within a few days of treatment.

6.3 Psoriasis

Psoriasis is relatively uncommon in young babies. An inflammatory skin disorder that is frequently characterized by red skin overlaid with white, flaky areas covered in silvery scales. They can appear anywhere in the body, but most commonly on the scalp, elbows, knees and lower back. The affected areas may be sore and itchy.

The condition is caused by an overactive immune system causing inflammation, which pushes new skin cells to the surface too quickly.

It is a chronic disease, and there is no cure for it. However, the symptoms can be managed and improved with topical creams and ointments.

Final Few Lines

It can be distressing for a parent to see their little one with a cradle cap.

Luckily, it is not dangerous, and it doesn’t bother your baby.

As a bonus – it will resolve on its own, or with proper daily skincare.

As it might be confused with other skin conditions that exhibit the same symptoms, you should consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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