Soft as a Baby's Bum: Caring for Your Baby's Skin in the Fourth Trimester with Rachel Fitz-D
What a strange couple of years we have all lived through! Separated from our loved ones and daily taken-for-granted things suddenly suspended, as we have emerged, blinking in the light of freedom, we have come to appreciate the smaller things in life - the delight of sitting at a table with a friend to chat over a coffee, huddled close enough to share some elicit gossip without the next table overhearing. Working in a buzzing office, enjoying the slight chaos of a live face to face meeting rather than the stilted one-at-a-time talks over Zoom.
For me, the most intense joy has been burying my nose into the soft necks of my grandchildren, smelling their hair and feeling their gorgeous warm skin! Not yet marred by teenage spots or scars from life’s little adventures, their skin is as perfect as the day they were born and, genuinely, as soft as a baby’s bum!
One of the sweet joys of new parenthood, which helps to make up for the broken nights, is snuggling up skin to skin with our baby and feeling that soft, downy flesh touching ours. Their cheeks like little plump peaches, untouched by the ravages of time, we can indulge ourselves in those sweet moments which will pass only too soon.
Because, no sooner have we said, ‘You really do have your uncle Bert’s nose’ than you come to change their clothes and, whoosh - a veritable snowstorm of skin flakes hits you! Skin EVERYWHERE!! In a panic, we slap on baby oil and go looking for a cause. ‘Of course,’ we think, ‘mother-in-law did the washing for us, used the wrong washing powder and has broken our baby!’
Then, just as the skin stops shedding and we want to take our fresh-faced baby out to show the whole world … ping, ping, ping! Our baby comes out in pimples and blotches and we convince ourselves that we have eaten something which has gone into our milk and broken our baby! Or we have been in the same room as someone with a sniffle and they have broken our baby! Or our mother-in-law did the washing for us, again, and used the wrong washing powder again, and has broken our baby AGAIN! Whatever has happened, one thing is for sure - our baby is broken, and so the long Google search begins …
Now, having been a midwife for over 30 years and a baby and parenting expert for even longer, I have seen endless flaky and spotty babies and can tell you this: Not only is your baby NOT broken, but baby flaking and baby spots (or baby acne as this is often called) is perfectly normal and simply your baby’s highly evolved ways of adapting to being in the outside world.
The skin a baby has when they are inside the womb is just perfect for the job of being inside the womb. When a baby is born, that /womb-skin’ has to make way for the ‘room-skin’ which will be perfect for this new environment. So, a few days after birth the ‘womb-skin’ sheds. You come to change your baby and, there’s that snowstorm! The baby has simply lost the skin it no longer needs. No need to use oil - you can’t stick this skin back on and any products like oil or cream on such young skin can actually just cause more harm than good - because, in another week or so, your baby will have a brand new ‘room-skin’, just as beautiful and soft as that first skin.
So why the spots, you ask? Well, when baby was inside your womb, your pregnancy hormones were able to get across the placenta. This is why babies often have little boobs when they are very young, and why little girls sometimes have a mini period a few days after birth. Once out, those hormone levels start to drop and, just like a teenager with their fluctuating hormones, spots appear. It is a good sign that your baby is clearing out all the pregnancy hormones out of its system and requires no treatment at all. Your baby really is just perfect at being a baby and, left alone, this teeny-ager phase will disappear after a few weeks or so and your baby will be peach-perfect again and ready to have those cute baby photos taken for the family album.
So how should you care for your baby’s skin in the fourth trimester? Firstly, trust that your baby’s skin really is highly evolved to make this adjustment from womb-life to room-life just beautifully and needs no help from you in the way of products. Even the gentlest of oils like coconut or olive oil can affect the healthy working of the skin and can also lead to irritation.
So care for your baby’s beautiful skin by leaving it to do its job without interfering. In the womb the skin is covered with vernix - a white, waxy, substance which protects and nourishes the skin in the amniotic fluid and this often hangs around for the first few days after birth. Avoid bathing your baby for that first week after birth to let the vernix absorb and nourish the skin, and then only bathe your baby once or twice a week after that using nothing but warm water. No soaps, lotions, oils or other products should be used on a newborn baby for at least 6 weeks and, after that, stick to ones that are meant for babies and follow the instructions carefully - less is definitely more in this case, and nothing is best of all. When you want to enjoy some delicious baby massage time, just use your warm, bare hands.
Then, when it comes to laundry, make sure you choose a non-perfumed, non-bio liquid for baby’s AND both your and your partner’s clothes, and never use fabric softener on the family clothes either as this is a top cause of irritation and rashes.
Always keep a gentle eye on those rashes and spots - keeping skin care gentle and simple helps to avoid infections and allergies but, if spots become very sore and angry or look like the have pus in them. Or if your baby runs a fever or simply seems unwell with spots or rashes, then always call your GP and ask for a check.
Remember that your baby’s skin is highly evolved and is more than capable of taking care of itself so, help it do it’s job by keeping those products out of your shopping basket and your newborn baby’s skin soft and
Baby & Parenting Expert & author of ‘Your Baby Skin To Skin’