Having a baby is perhaps the most wonderful experience in one’s life. But most parents would agree that it brings along a lot of anxiety and worry especially for first time parents. As a dermatologist and mother to two boys I can relate to the confusion that all “rookie” parents experience when bombarded with information by parents, friends, well-wishers and of course the internet. And when it is your baby’s skin you want to ensure that whatever you use is safe and as natural as possible.
I will share with you a few tips and secrets that I have learnt over the years as a mother and a dermatologist.
1. Babies are different
Yes, they are cute and cuddly, unlike adults, but their skin too is very different from grown-ups. It’s thinner, more fragile, tends to absorb and lose water faster and tends to react more than adult skin. Also, the body surface area is more which means that whatever is applied has the potential to reach the blood stream. So, choose your baby care products wisely.
2. Cleansing and shampooing
There are so many myths and customs related to bathing of newborns. Just remember that when it comes to babies keeping things to the bare minimum might be a good idea. Most babies born in hospitals are cleaned by the nursing staff after delivery. The creamy white layer or the vernix caseosa can be left to shed off on its own. Once home the requirement for bathing will depend on the climate and local customs but a bath thrice a week should be enough. Make sure you use lukewarm water to bathe your baby. Test it with the best thermometer in the world which is a mother’s hand. Use mild, syndet based non perfumed cleansers and moisturize the baby with a bland moisturizer immediately after bath. Kids with eczema will require more intensive moisturizing and I will discuss that separately.
To massage or not to massage- I can’t remember how many times I have been asked this. I always encourage massaging unless the baby has some severe skin condition which may aggravate with a massage. But there is a caveat-mothers or fathers and not dais or aayas should massage the baby. This is a ritual which you will treasure and will help you bond with your baby. Research also shows that massaging calms your baby and helps them sleep better. Which oil should you use? Coconut, sunflower, safflower oils are good and non-irritating. Avoid mustard, olive, almond, soyabean oil, etc as these can irritate the baby’s skin.
4. Are Organic/ natural products better?
As parents we all want to limit our child’s exposure to harmful chemicals. But an organic or natural product is not necessarily safer or better. I say this because of several reasons. Firstly, because of lack of proper regulation there is no way to know if what the labels claim is true. Many of these products are not tested for safety, efficacy or toxicity. So, will it be wise to use these on your baby? Secondly, allergic reactions to these so called natural products are being increasingly reported. It is not necessary that what suits someone else’s baby will suit your little one too. Bacterial contamination due to lack of preservatives is another issue and so is the lack of efficacy due to inactivation of the natural ingredients. Products need to be stabilized to retain their effect. So before you pick those expensive organic labels off the shelf and smear it on your precious one make sure it is needed and safe.
5. Wipes-safe or not safe?
Allergic reactions related to preservatives like methylchloroisothiazolinone is on the rise in infants and also in mommies and daddies. Wipes contain different ingredients which have changed notably over the last decade. We now have a pH-buffered wipes, fragrance and preservative free, non-drying wipes. Contact dermatitis is more likely with older formulations containing alcohol, sub-optimal surfactants and fragrances. For parents who use wipes it will be heartening to know that research has shown that new generation wipes do not damage or dehydrate the skin and are if not better equivalent to cotton and water as cleansing agents. I would recommend to go by convenience but at the same time if you suspect possible allergy just stop using wipes and shift to cotton and water. Also apply a good barrier cream after each wash to maintain hydration and skin integrity.
6. What to keep in your baby bag
Though not directly related to skin care but still very important to mention here. Many moms dread stepping out with a baby but it need not be so stressful if you have all that you need well organized in your baby bag. Make sure you carry a changing pad, an extra diaper, a change of clothes for the baby, wipes, towel, sanitizer, a biodegradable waste bag for soiled diapers, bottle of formula or expressed milk if you are not breast feeding and a light blanket. Don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothes for yourself in case of a spill up and moisturizer for your hands to apply after using wipes or sanitizers.
Being a parent is a tough job. But don’t obsess about it. Relax and cherish every moment with your babies for you won’t realize how time flies!