Congratulations on your new bundle of joy … and worry!
Safely snug in the newborn bubble, no one prepares you for the worry that comes lovingly packaged in with your newest bundle. That sweet newborn smell, the super soft skin, and the precious reactions of your little newborn just add to her apparent fragility.
And that’s where the worry comes in …
The first few months of your baby’s life are characterized by rapid growth and substantial changes. The same goes for your little one’s first weeks out in the world.
Soon after birth, you may notice that your baby’s perfect skin starts peeling. Off you go panicking and thinking something terrible is going on, because – well – that’s what any normal parent’s reaction would be, not being prepared to expect this beforehand.
If this is what brought you here, then you’re in the right place. This article will go over the reasons why your newborn’s skin might be peeling, what is normal, what is not and how you can differentiate between the two, how to deal with newborn peeling skin and what to avoid doing in such a case.
Why Is My Newborn’s Skin Peeling & Dry?
You might still be at the hospital or newly at home when you first notice it. Newborn skin peeling or flaking usually occurs during a baby’s first days outside the womb.
Newborn skin peeling is absolutely normal and can occur on any part of your little one’s body, including the face, hands, soles of the feet, as well as ankles.
As noted by WebMD, babies born after their due date are more prone to peeling skin. This is because they have spent more time in amniotic fluid.
Underneath the flaky skin, though, your baby’s skin should be all moist and soft.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: ” The amount of peeling varies with gestational age.
By this I mean that skin peeling is more common and can be profuse if the infant is born after 40 weeks.
As is already mentioned in this article, this peeling is only “cosmetic” and does not indicate a skin problem or concern.
CHOP mentions this and other findings that may be seen when an infant is “post dates”.
Normal Skin Peeling In Newborns
One of the reasons behind your baby’s skin peeling lies in the environment they were born in before birth.
Immediately at birth, newborns are covered in amniotic fluid, blood, and vernix. Vernix is what keeps your baby’s skin from getting all wrinkly in the womb.
Most care providers wipe off all fluids from the baby once they’re born. Once the vernix is gone, the baby’s outer layer of skin starts to peel and this usually happens within one to three weeks from birth.
Breastfeeding Basics point out that rubbing the vernix into the skin, rather than wiping it off, leaves the skin more moisturized and not looking as dry or flaky.
It has been noticed that the more vernix a baby is born with, the less susceptible they are to peeling skin in their newborn days. So, it makes sense to rub that natural moisturizer in as best you can.
Nonetheless, and regardless the amount of vernix, some degree of dryness or peeling after birth is completely normal and should be expected.
Such newborn skin peeling often disappears on its own and does not usually require any special care from your part.
How To Treat Newborn Skin Peeling
Whilst skin peeling in newborns is normal (for the most part), following specific practices in the way you care for your little one can help protect their skin from dryness and excessive peeling.
Here are some strategies which you can follow for smoother newborn skin.
Healthy children, by the American Academy of Pediatrics, points out that your newborn does not need much bathing in the early months.
Washing the diaper area thoroughly during diaper changes and three baths a week are more than enough. Frequent bathing dries out the skin, increasing the chances of peeling as a result.
Once you do bathe your newborn, stick to quick and efficient baths that don’t exceed 5 to 10 minutes. This is the bath time duration recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Make sure that the bath water is lukewarm, and do not use any soapy and fragranced cleansers. Hot water and bubble baths are too harsh on your little one’s skin.
A hypoallergenic moisturizer works wonders in keeping your baby’s skin soft. Apply moisturizer twice a day.
When applied after a bath, it helps seal moisture and limit dryness.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Clinically, I have not found that moisturizers have a significant effect on the amount of skin peeling in newborns.
Parents often try them because they feel as if they ‘should do something about it,’ but the skin continues to peel anyway.
I often explain it to parents as ‘the top skin layer sloughs off because your baby is not surrounded by amniotic fluid anymore.’
This usually reassures the parent that the peeling is normal.”
Just like you and I need to be properly hydrated throughout the day, the same applies for a newborn.
With that being said, unless your doctor indicates otherwise, babies should not be drinking water before six months of age. A newborn typically remains hydrated by being fed enough breast milk or formula milk throughout the day.
Avoid The Chill
Cold air can wreak havoc on a baby’s skin. When outdoors, ensure that no skin is exposed to cold air. Socks and mittens help keep hands and feet warm.
Besides avoiding cold air, warm dry air is not friendly on the skin either. Especially in winter, heating can leave the house too dry, also drying up skin in the process.
A cool mist humidifier can balance out moisture levels.
No Harsh Chemicals
Not all detergents are created equal. Whilst the scent might be great, it’s probably not the best for your baby’s skin, containing harmful chemicals that cause all sorts of problems.
When shopping for laundry detergents for your little one’s clothes, blankets, and sheets, opt for ones specifically developed for baby’s delicate skin.
Stay away from scented baby products. Perfumes and fragrances can irritate baby’s skin, making the peeling worse.
When Is It Not Normal?
There are some factors which you should look out for that may indicate the degree of your newborn’s skin peeling is not normal, or – at the very least – something you should look into for reassurance purposes.
These include eczema, psoriasis, and ichthyosis.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “John Hopkins University Hospital has a patient-friendly article that discusses some normal and abnormal newborn skin conditions, including erythema toxicum and seborrhea that many parents inquire about.
Whilst rare in newborn days, this condition – also known as atopic dermatitis – can develop in infancy.
The condition is characterized by dry, crusty and red itchy patches on the skin. Unlike the normal newborn softness, the affected skin also feels rough.
As noted by WebMD, eczema commonly appears on cheeks and the arm and leg joints. Consult your doctor if your baby’s peeling skin looks like this.
The cause of eczema can be genetic. It can also be caused by certain products you’re using on your baby (such as detergents to wash their clothes), or specific foods that act as a trigger.
Take note of any new products or foods introduced to try to pinpoint what’s causing the condition. In terms of food – dairy, soy, and wheat are common triggers.
If your baby is on a soy-based formula, your doctor may suggest switching to a non-soy one. Specific moisturizing creams may also be recommended to control the symptoms.
Baby eczema often disappears by itself in normal circumstances, but you should definitely talk to your doctor about it for reassurance purposes.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “There is another point that I think should be made regarding food triggers.
I have seen quite a few infants for which the parent is using Aveeno oatmeal-based moisturizers for eczema.
The eczema gets worse instead of better, particularly confusing for parents because Aveeno markets an “eczema cream.”
It often becomes evident that the infant has an oat allergy/sensitivity when oat infant cereal is subsequently introduced; the eczema worsens.
Once the Aveeno moisturizer is discontinued and non-oat cereals are given, the eczema resolves.
In most cases, this allergy self-resolves by a year of age (very similar to many cases of milk protein and soy allergies).”
My Baby Has Eczema, Should I Call A Doctor?
If your baby’s eczema doesn’t get better with over the counter creams, it’s time to consult your doctor.
WebMD recommends consulting with your doctor if a yellow or light brown crust or pus-filled blister appears on top of the eczema. Such symptoms may mean a course of antibiotics is needed.
If your baby has been exposed to someone with a cold sore or genital herpes, call your doctor. It becomes easier for your baby to contract these germs if she suffers from eczema.
Why Is My Baby’s Eczema Getting Worse?
There are factors which can make eczema worse and add to the discomfort your little one’s experiencing. You can help your baby avoid triggers which can flare up the condition. These include:
– Dry air: dry air leads to dry skin, and this is even more common in winter when heating is on. Make sure the room where the baby sleeps is well-humidified. Making use of a cool mist humidifier in such a case is ideal.
– Products and materials: irritants such as thick woolen clothes, scratchy woolen blankets, soaps and laundry detergents can add to the discomfort by triggering more symptoms.
– Crying: when your baby is stressed and crying, they tend to flush. Flushing leads to irritated skin, acting as a trigger to eczema symptoms.
– Heat and sweating: heat is eczema’s enemy as it leads to more itching.
– Allergens: food items such as cow’s milk, peanuts, eggs or certain fruits can act as a trigger for eczema symptoms. Your baby might not be on solids just yet but, if breastfed, can be exposed to these through mum’s milk. A process of elimination helps determine if it’s indeed a specific food item that’s causing a flare-up.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The following is a useful link from the Mayo Clinic, as far as these remedies go.
How To Bathe A Baby With Eczema
Special care routines can help control your baby’s eczema and reduce their discomfort.
These simple practices outlined in a cute infographic by the American Academy of Dermatology can help when bathing your little one:
- Prepare everything next to baby’s tub, including the moisturizer you will be using once ready from bathing.
- Use lukewarm water. Hot water dries the skin, hence leading to more eczema flare-ups.
- Wash gently any areas that are dirty, avoiding the skin affected by eczema. Gently apply cleanser – without rubbing or scrubbing – to unaffected skin. You may be tempted to prepare a nice bubble bath for your little one, but eczema and bubble baths are not the best of friends. Bubble baths or bath oil can add to more flare-ups.
- Time in bath matters for babies with eczema. Dermatologists recommend a 5 to 10-minute bath to avoid drying up the skin. If your baby absolutely loves bath time, a 20-minute bath once in a while is ok.
As pointed out by WebMD, when drying off skin, pat dry rather than rub. Dress your little one in loose cotton clothes for added comfort.
Following your doctor’s or dermatologist’s advice in caring for your baby’s skin eases their discomfort, makes eczema flares less common, improves treatment response, and reduces the need for medication.
According to Medical News Today, psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that mainly affects the skin. The condition is characterized by a reddish scaly rash and often manifests itself on the scalp, around or in the ears, the elbows, knees, navel, genitals, and buttocks.
With psoriasis, skin production in the affected area is excessive in a way that the body does not keep up with its shedding, leaving a silvery-white appearance.
Whilst the symptoms of psoriasis usually appear between the ages of 11 years and 45 years, it can start at any age, even in the newborn stage. Still, it’s very uncommon amongst infants.
If psoriasis does develop in an infant, it’s prone to be first visible in the diaper area, making it more difficult to properly diagnose. Diagnosis is possible with observation over a period of time.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I found very little in the medical literature regarding infant psoriasis, and I have only seen it once in clinical practice.
In that particular case, its location was in the diaper area.
It presented as a very difficult to treat diaper rash that failed to respond to emollients, antibiotic ointments and hydrocortisone creams.
I ultimately referred this patient to a dermatologist for treatment.”
Treatment For Psoriasis In Infants
As outlined by Medical News Today, psoriasis has many treatment options, including creams and lotions, keeping the area dry and clean, light therapy, avoiding cold and heat, and oral medication (if prescribed).
Moisturizers designed for skin affected by psoriasis also help out.
Unfortunately, psoriasis is a lifelong condition and one which has periods of improvement and others of worsening. Luckily, with proper medical attention, it can be managed.
Ichthyosis is a genetic condition that can also cause peeling and dry skin. It’s different from normal peeling in that the skin looks scaly and is itchy.
This condition is diagnosed by a doctor based on your family’s medical history and a physical examination.
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for ichthyosis yet, but the regular application of creams can help relieve the dryness and improve the general condition of your baby’s skin.
Get in touch with your doctor if you suspect your little one has this condition. A blood or skin sample will be taken to determine the cause of the skin shedding.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “As for ichthyosis, it is also very rare; if have never seen it in an infant.
Here is a link from the NIH on the various types of congenital ichthyosis.
Wrapping It Up
Newborn skin peeling is many-a-times just another factor to deal with in your little one’s first weeks. Whilst you can follow care tips to contain the peeling and prevent it from worsening, the truth is that total and complete prevention is not possible, no matter what you do.
There is no specific time frame within which your baby’s skin should go back to its newborn soft and perfect state. The time it takes for the peeling to stop varies from baby to baby too, so that makes it harder to tell.
As we’ve seen in this article, newborn skin peeling is perfectly normal. With that being said, if you observe any other symptoms that may hint at some other underlying skin condition, or if the peeling does not improve within a few weeks, consult with your doctor.
You may still find yourself Googling everything under the sun in the meantime, but trust yourself, you’re doing a great job!