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Cradle cap

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a skin condition that is very common for babies before they are eight months old. It isn’t pretty, but it’s not harmful either. Find out more about cradle cap and how to soothe baby’s skin.

Cradle cap


Cradle cap looks like a very bad case of dandruff. It can show up as a red area on your newborn's scalp, covered with greasy, yellow, scaly patches and can sometimes cover the whole scalp. Over time, the scales start to become flaky and rub off easily, often with bits of your baby's hair attached. Although it can look unsightly, it's not itchy and won't cause your baby any discomfort.

Confusingly, cradle cap can also appear on baby’s face, and around her nappy area and armpits. It’s the same condition, but here it's called seborrhoeic eczema (dermatitis) rather than cradle cap. Wherever it appears, it’s very common for babies less than eight months old, and can linger for weeks or months. Older children up to toddler age can get it, too.

Your baby may be inclined to have cradle cap if there is a family history of allergic conditions, such as eczema. If your baby has cradle cap, there's a chance she could develop other seborrhoeic dermatitis conditions when she is older, such as dandruff.

It's thought that cradle cap happens as a result of hormones left in your baby's body from pregnancy. These stimulate secretions from the oil glands in the skin, making the skin cells stick to the scalp. The secretions tend to reduce in the weeks and months after birth, which is why the condition usually clears up on its own a few weeks or months after birth.

While your baby has cradle cap, there are some ways to gently remove the scales:
  • Regularly wash your baby's hair with a baby shampoo, and then loosen the flakes using a soft brush.
  • Rub a mild baby oil, olive oil, or almond oil into your baby's scalp. If you want to, you can leave the oil on overnight, and then brush off the softened flakes in the morning. Clean the remaining oil off by shampooing with mild baby shampoo.
  • Stronger shampoos are available in pharmacies, but you probably won't need them. If you do decide to use a stronger shampoo, make sure you keep it out of your baby's eyes.
  • It is tempting to pick at the scaly patches on your baby's head, but try not to. Picking at it can leave sore patches that could become infected.

If your baby's cradle cap starts to look red and swollen, take her to the doctor. This could mean it is infected. Your doctor can prescribe an antifungal cream or shampoo, or a course of antibiotics.

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