How To Know If Your Baby Has Cradle Cap And What To Do About It

Cradle cap is the common term for seborrheic dermatitis, and it’s something we see quite often in our newborn patients here at Westchester Health. Basically infant dandruff, cradle cap is extremely common and it usually doesn’t cause pain or itching. To learn more, read this excellent blog by Heather Magnan, MD, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group.

Does your baby have thick, oily, white or yellow crusty or scaly patches on his/her scalp? Relax, it’s nothing serious, it’s probably cradle cap.  Some babies get it in a small patch, while others get scales all over their head. And by the way, cradle cap doesn’t just appear on the head. Although the scalp is the predominant location, this condition can also show up on your baby’s forehead, eyebrows, ears, nose, diaper area, back of the neck, armpits and other parts of the body.

It’s not contagious and it is not caused by poor hygiene or improper care of your baby.

What causes cradle cap?

Unfortunately, we really don’t know what causes it, although there are several theories.

  • Some experts believe that the hormones a baby gets from his/her mother toward the end of pregnancy overstimulate the production of oil (sebum) in the oil glands and hair follicles.
  • Others think that cradle cap may be caused by a yeast (fungus) that grows in the sebum along with bacteria.
  • Also, certain factors—like weather extremes, oily skin, immune system problems, stress and other skin disorders—can make it more likely that a baby will get cradle cap.

Ways to treat it

In most cases, cradle cap just goes away on its own, usually in a few months and certainly by your baby’s first birthday. However, if your baby has a severe case or if cradle cap keeps coming back, you may want to try the following home treatments:

  1. Wash your baby’s scalp daily with a mild shampoo or twice weekly with a dandruff shampoo. This helps loosen and remove the scales and crusty patches. Make sure the shampoo doesn’t get in your baby’s eyes because it will irritate them.
  2. To loosen the scales, brush your baby’s hair with a soft-bristle brush, soft toothbrush or fine-tooth comb before rinsing off the shampoo.
  3. If the scales don’t loosen easily, try rubbing a small amount of baby oil, mineral oil or petroleum jelly (not olive oil) onto your baby’s scalp. Let the oil soak into the scales for a few minutes, then shampoo your baby’s hair. Be sure to wash the oil away each time you apply it—too much oil on the scalp may cause the scales to build up and could actually make cradle cap worse.
  4. Gently massage your baby’s scalp with your fingers or a washcloth to loosen the scales.

When to take your infant to the pediatrician

In most cases, cradle cap is not serious. However at Westchester Health, we recommend taking your child to your pediatrician if:

  • cradle cap appears in places where your baby doesn’t have hair
  • home remedies have not worked
  • the rash is getting worse, is causing hair loss or becomes itchy
  • it covers large parts of your baby’s body
  • the affected skin becomes firm and red, starts to drain fluid, or feels warm, which could be signs of an infection
  • your baby has a weakened immune system
  • your baby has cradle cap and is having trouble gaining weight

Another good resource

For more information about cradle cap, you might find this article from KidsHealth helpful.

If you’re concerned about your child’s cradle cap, please come see us

If your baby has cradle cap that is not responding to treatment and you want it checked out, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our pediatricians. We’ll examine your baby and together with you, choose the best treatment to clear up the condition as soon as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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To read Dr. Magnan’s blog in full, click here.

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