Your baby has been nestled in perfect protection for the last 9 months – so what do you need to know about caring for their skin on the outside?
It’s the perfect new baby picture that we’re all used to seeing; gently laid in mum’s arms in their little baby bath surrounded by beautifully scented bubbles, but is that really the best start for your little one’s skin? Quite simply no . . . . .
Your Newborn Baby’s Skin
Your baby’s skin in utero is covered in vernix, a thick greasy layer which protects the skin and provides a barrier preventing the loss of fluids and electrolytes into the anmiotic fluid. At birth this coating used to be wiped off by midwives as a hygienic measure but after significant research the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that this protective layer is left intact.
Research shows that this layer has huge benefits in caring for your newborn’s skin, as a defence against bacteria, a moisturiser, antioxident and its healing properties support your skin’s adaptation to the outside world.
At birth your baby may have lots or a little vernix covering their skin, this may cover your baby or just be visible in the folds of skin – left alone this will naturally disappear around 5-10 days following birth.
So, as a first rule you should leave your baby’s skin alone for at least the first week or so. You can gently massage the vernix over the skin to keep the skin moisturised, and of course once you’ve done that rub the remaining vernix into your own skin (believe me it will feel amazingly soft!) Try not to use any products at all at this stage.
Baby’s First Bath
Baby’s first bath is always a milestone for the record books so make sure that you have the camera at the ready! Preparation is key so make sure you’re prepared with everything you need. Keep it short and make sure the water is at the right temperature (guidelines state 37.5 oC as this is normal body temperature), the room is warm to stop your baby getting cold, and you have everything to hand. Sponge baths are usually the best option for the first month:
- Leaving the nappy wrap your baby in a towel and only remove as you clean each area, wrapping them back up as you go
- Gently wipe behind the ears, neck, underarms and then legs, behind the knees and toes – these are areas which often get a little cheesy! If allowed to stay damp and sticky they’ll quickly turn red and sore so don’t forget them in your cleaning routine
- Leave the hair towards the end as with wet hair your baby will quickly get cold
- Lastly clean the tummy, folds at the top of the legs and the nappy area
- Don’t forget to wipe around the umbilical cord – but don’t get it too wet, the aim is to allow it to dry out and fall off. Always let the stump fully dry before putting the nappy back on and ensure that enough air can get to it to help with the drying process. Your baby’s umbilical cord stump will usually fall off by itself in about 7-15 days.
Then – enjoy your cuddles! Once your baby is a little older you can progress to a dunk in the bath, but using water is sufficient to keeping your baby clean. If you want to add a product look for something with as few ingredients as possible, keep it natural and avoid anything with parabens (a cosmetic chemical preservative), sulphites (a chemical foaming agent) or lanolin which is often added as a moisturiser, but is disputed by many as making sensitive, dry or eczema prone skin worse. Also when reading the label always check that products are fragrance-free rather than unscented.
Finish off the bath by gently patting the skin dry without rubbing. Remember to keep these first baths brief to stop your baby getting cold and moisturise the skin well afterwards, again always read the label and don’t assume that products “designed” for baby’s sensitive skin are free from nasty chemicals.
Moisturisers are a great everyday item for keeping your babies skin nourished, but remember not to slather it on too thickly – your babies skin needs to breathe especially in the warmer Summer months when miliaria (prickly heat) is caused by hotter temperatures and high humidity. Moisturisers should be used less sparingly in the Winter months to prevent skin drying and cracking due to lower temperatures, and central heating causing lower humidities.
Also called nappy creams these are great for protecting those areas which get damp such as the bottom, crease of the neck, folds at the top of the legs and underarms. Barrier creams should be applied to clean and dry skin, and remember that you just need a thin layer to protect the skin.
Barrier creams are also perfect for protecting the chins of dribbling teething babies to stop them getting sore, and great for little faces when they’re out in the cold. Plus if your face is a little chapped in colder weather rub on a little barrier cream as protection!
Keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible. Your newborn baby’s fragile skin is much thinner than an adults skin and will burn much more easily. Keep babies cool and covered with long sleeves, a hat and keep them in the shade. Make sure babies are hydrated and for older babies you can use a sun cream if they’re in the sun at all. Choose natural suncreams, reapply often and don’t forget the tops of the ears, nose and back of the neck. Try to apply suncreams at least 30 minutes before going into the sun and keep them indoors when the sun is at its hottest.
Clothing: to pre-wash or not to pre-wash?
Often debated is the washing of new clothes before dressing your baby. In non-organic clothing manufacture the use of toxic dyes and processing substances are widespread, even down to the substances used to make your items on the hanger look perfectly ironed. Tests have shown that these dye residues and irritants are still in the clothing and can be absorbed by the skin. You should always wash children’s clothing before use to help wash these substances away – or avoid these irritant and toxic chemicals altogether by choosing organic fabrics. For more information on organic cotton you can check out our So What is Organic Anyway? blog or read more from The Soil Association
As your baby gets older encourage good skincare routines by showing them how to wash their hands properly, and take care of their skin by using moisturisers and protect their skin in the sun.
While you were pregnant your body was using all natural means of protecting your baby’s skin and preparing it for the outside world, now you’re baby is finally here continue to protect it by using the gentlest and most natural means you can.
But most of all – enjoy every moment of those newborn post bath cuddles!