scaly not scary:
what you need to know about cradle cap

If you're wondering why your adorable baby's head is suddenly covered in scaly flaky skin, the answer is cradle cap. The good news is it's really common (about half of babies get it), it doesn't hurt or itch and it's really easy to treat. But you're probably left with the question: what is cradle cap?


what cradle cap looks like?

It can be white or yellow, and looks a bit like dried, splattered yoghurt. Sometimes there are red spots on the skin beside it. Apart from looking a bit yucky, it doesn't affect your baby. They won't have a fever or show any signs of illness or irritation. Basically, cradle cap looks worse than it actually is.

the cause of cradle cap

It's a bit embarrassing, but nobody really knows what causes cradle cap. What we do know is that it's not caused by bacterial infection, allergy or bad hygiene. It's not contagious, either. Most doctors think it's either caused by fungus or overactive oil glands. As newborns have a lot of mum's hormones still going around their system, this can make their glands produce more oil than they need to. So instead of falling off, old skin sticks to their head and dries out.

treating cradle cap

Although cradle cap is pretty harmless, you might want to help it on its way, as it doesn't tend to go on its own. It can start to weep a bit of fluid and sometimes spreads to baby's face and neck. Luckily it's really easy to treat and usually goes away quickly.

Rub baby oil or olive oil into your baby's head before bedtime, and wash it off with baby shampoo in the morning. They'll love the massage! Dry with a nice soft towel, and brush their head with a special cradle cap brush (a soft hair brush or baby comb will do the job too). Most of the scales will slide off easily. Sometimes it'll take a bit of your baby's hair with it: rest assured, it will grow back! You might want to make this part of your daily routine until the cradle cap is gone.

what to do if cradle cap doesn't clear up

If it's still there after a couple of weeks of oil massages, shampooing and brushing, you might like to try a cradle cap treatment. Ask the chemist for a special shampoo that's suitable for your baby.

You can also have a little chat with your health visitor about it. It's unlikely to happen, but if the cradle cap starts to spread to your baby's face and neck, take a trip to your GP to get peace of mind that no bacteria has crept into the cracked skin. Thankfully this is really rare, especially if you get in and treat it early.