Worried about those small, pimple-like bumps on your baby’s face? Don’t panic. Chances are, your baby is simply experiencing infant acne. These red bumps on a newborn’s face usually appear at around three weeks after birth. They may look worse when a baby is crying because the increased amount of blood flowing in the skin can make the affected area look redder. Nonetheless, infant acne is largely harmless and usually disappears on its own without treatment.
What do they look like? Infant acne develops on the cheeks, forehead or chin and will appear as either pustules or papules. Being tiny and containing a small amount of pus, pustules should look similar to white heads on an adult’s skin. Papules are bigger, redder and more solid, and they look very much like pimples.
Can you do something about them? Exactly what causes infant acne is not known, although one hypothesis is that the hormones babies receive from their mothers during pregnancy may be the culprit. Infant acne usually clears up on its own in a few weeks, after the hormone levels normalize, but many parents may have cosmetic concerns about the condition.
An important thing to remember is that infant acne is usually best left alone. Don’t go treating your baby’s acne with topical medicines formulated for adults and don’t go overboard in cleansing his face. Harsh soaps may just irritate your baby’s skin and do more harm than good. When cleaning your baby’s face, use only hypoallergenic cleansers and just gently pat your baby’s face dry (don’t rub). It goes without saying that you should never pinch the bumps.
When should you see your doctor? Your doctor will recommend several postnatal visits after you give birth so those regular scheduled visits already offer you good opportunity to discuss your baby acne concerns with your physician. The general rule is that infant acne should clear up within 3 months. If you’ve already let nature take its course but your baby still has the acne or if it is getting worse, then it’s time to see your doctor again to determine its seriousness, if there are other underlying conditions causing it, as well as the best course of action to follow.
But is it really infant acne? A handful of other skin conditions may affect a newborn infant aside from infant acne. One of them is milia, which occurs as tiny white bumps on the nose, chin, cheeks or forehead, and appear at birth or when the baby is one week old. Milia is usually caused by warm conditions, so things like warm climatic settings or being housed in an incubator or dressed in warm clothing could all make a baby’s skin vulnerable to milia.
Another common skin condition is seborrheic dermatitis or cradle cap which usually occurs when a baby is between one to three months of age. While it isn’t usually itchy, it can look very distressing to parents because yellow, crusty flakes tend to develop on the skin of the scalp, ears, eyelids and eyebrows. Most doctors agree it is not caused by poor hygiene, allergy or bacterial infection, although fungal infection and overactive sebaceous glands may have something to do with it. The problem often resolves on its own but your doctor may recommend antifungal solutions if necessary.
Infant eczema is also a common skin condition in babies, affecting some 65 percent of infants in the first year of life. It is characterized by scaly and itchy red patches that can spread all over the body. The exact cause of infant eczema is not known, although studies have shown that it can be hereditary. Babies whose parents or relatives have had eczema or even asthma and allergies in the past may be genetically predisposed to develop infant eczema. Simple things like using hypoallergenic baby soaps and allowing your child’s skin to breath by dressing him up in cool clothing can help ease the discomfort. Your doctor may also recommend prescription creams or ointments.
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This article was first published last February 26, 2011.