What’s up with my baby’s skin?

How we love newborn babies! Their soft skin, delicious smell, gorgeous chubby cheeks… But soon after birth, many new parents are confronted with the unexpected: Baby acne, cradle cap, and eczema.

Skin so soft?

Have you heard the phrase, “skin as soft as a baby’s”? New parents expect their baby’s skin to be smooth and delicate, but often in the first months of life, hormonal changes mean that their complexions are less than perfect for a time, then settle down, then something else flares up. While your baby will undoubtedly be beautiful, his or her delicate, soft skin will undergo a few changes in the first months of life.

Flakiness and dryness

Within a short time after your baby’s birth, their skin may become dry and even flaky. This is natural, as they transition from the liquid-filled environment of the womb, where their skin was protected by vernix, to the air and the wearing of clothing. Newborn skin is prone to peeling for the first few weeks, but this will soon settle down.

Birth marks

Newborn skin is quite translucent in appearance in the early days, but as your baby grows, his skin will thicken almost imperceptibly. You may see a number of birth marks on your newborn’s skin, like stork bites (a red mark at the back of the head near the neck) or angel kisses (a red mark between your baby’s eyebrows or on the top of their nose between the eyes). These will also fade in time and become less noticeable, and for stork bites, your baby’s hair will soon grow to cover the spot anyway.

Baby acne

Between two weeks and one month of your baby’s life, you may notice angry-looking red bumps on their face which remind you of pimples. In fact, this is hormonal acne, which is a result of the hormones from your body leaving his body after birth. It is sometimes present at birth (you may see just a few spots), and it usually appears on the cheeks at first, moving to the forehead and chin, and sometimes your baby’s upper back, shoulders, and upper chest. It can become reddened and more obvious when your baby cries, if he is hot, or if his skin becomes irritated by drool or spilling. Baby acne usually clears up within a few weeks, but if it lingers longer than about three months, visit your GP to check whether your baby might need a topical cream to help it clear up.


You may have noticed tiny white bumps on your baby’s skin, perhaps around their nose, chin, or on their cheeks, which were there at birth. These spots are called milia, and about 40-50% of newborns get them. Don’t pick at them or put any cream on them – they’ll go away by themselves in a few weeks.

Epstein’s Pearls

When your baby opened her mouth to yawn or cry, you might have seen small white spots on her gums or the roof of her mouth. These are called Epstein’s pearls, and they’re similar to milia. They’ll go away without any treatment in two to three weeks.


Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a skin rash that about 20% of babies can suffer from. It tends to show up on the cheeks and scalp, but can also appear on the arms, legs, chest, behind the knees, inside armpits and elbows, and in the creases of your baby’s legs. Eczema looks like dry, scaly skin, and may have little red bumps which ooze when irritated. Eczema is itchy, and unfortunately, scratching makes it worse. It generally comes and goes but can be worse in the hot summer months and is irritated by some fabrics and things which rub against it. If you suspect your baby has eczema, see your GP for advice on how to treat it.

Cradle cap

Your newborn might have a flaky scalp or greasy, yellowish patches beneath his hair, which look like dandruff scattered through his hair when you brush it. This is cradle cap, which is very common and usually clears up within six to 12 months. It’s ugly, but it’s harmless, and it’s likely caused by hormones overstimulating your baby’s oil-producing glands. If it bothers you, gently massage your baby’s scalp with a soft brush or your fingers to loosen the scales, then shampoo and rinse, and gently brush your baby’s hair again with a soft brush. Don’t pick at it or use anything harsh to try to get rid of it – over time, it will gradually disappear. Talk to your GP if it seems to spread beyond your baby’s scalp, or if it seems itchy or bleeds at all.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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