Three ways you didn’t realise you were harming your baby’s skin

Writing my blog on breastfeeding recently got me reminiscing on that newborn mummy stage of sweet milk scented kisses, gurgles and the oh kissable soft skin of your baby. Broody much??

I learnt recently from the launch of the Johnson’s Baby Healthy Skin Project, which aims to improve the health of more than 3 million babies by 2020, that a baby’s skin is 30% thinner than an adults. Our skin is also our first line of defence when it comes infection and a newborn’s skin and immune system are super delicate. Here in South Africa in particular, babies are exposed to harsher elements, combined with Socio economic problems, skin related issues are more of a common occurrence.

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As a mummy you tend to imagine your baby will be born with perfectly soft unblemished skin, but the reality is that it’s quite normal for babies to have skin problems. Newborn’s can typically experience a range of issues from milia (little white spots), acne and rashes and it’s important to remember these can be common occurrences, how we treat them makes the difference. With my first born I really battled in the first few months with his skincare and he developed severe eczema. Looking back, I realize a lot of it was probably as a result of me, trying to be a “storybook” mummy with long baths every afternoon followed by heavily scented sleep time oils and keeping him wrapped up too warm.

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So to all the new mums out there here are a couple of tips I’ve learned along the way:

Myth 1: Newborns need to be bathed everyday.

Actually ….. NO ! Apart from the occasional sick up and nappy explosion, a newborn isn’t really getting dirty. 1 or 2 baths a week should suffice followed by a gentle, unscented moisturiser applied to damp skin to lock in all that moisture. “Top and Tailing” is essential for every day, wiping babies face and nappy area with cotton wool and warm water to clean the essential areas.

By giving my baby long, warm baths daily I was stripping his skin of the essential oils and the heavily scented products I was using afterwards aggravated his eczema even more. Bath time should be in a luke warm water and not for longer than ten minutes. There are many proven benefits to baby massage, which I am a firm believer in as it also encourages you to be more in touch with baba’s skin so you can pick up on any issues. This doesn’t need to be done with heavy oils though, a few drops of something like the ever classic Johnson’s Baby Oil, the new Johnsons Top to Toe Massage oil, or coconut oil should do the trick.

As babies get a bit older around 4 months or so, you can begin to establish more of a routine with bath time, it’s both my boys favourite time of day, they literally run to the bath now and it can calm down any evening meltdowns.

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Myth number 2 – baby should always be wrapped up in lots of blankets

I think in Africa in particular, we’ve grown up with traditions like wrapping baby up in excessively thick blankets even though it’s sunny and 28 Degrees Celsius outside! Wrapping up baby too heavily can cause issues such as Contact Dermatitis from baby sweating too much. We also have a tendency to keep heaters on in the room baby is in. This is fine, though I would personally recommend using a humidifier in the room as well as heaters can strip the air of any moisture left which can lead to dryness of skin (especially in Johannesburg where the air is so thin). Overheating a room can also increase the risk of SIDS and babies should never sleep next to a heater. Rather keep baby comfortable by layering with thin clothing and a lighter blanket.

Myth 3 – Babies need direct sunlight

So yes, babies do need a daily dose of sunlight, but we need to try and keep them out of the DIRECT harsh sun. Their skin is thin and fragile and loses moisture 2 x faster than an adults. So its super important to protect newborn’s from over exposure. Doctors and dermatologists often recommend not using suncream until babies are at least over 6 months old. My youngest’ s skin is so sensitive that even after he was a year old he would complain that the “baby” sun cream I was using stung him. It’s important when giving baba his or her daily dose of Vitamin D to make sure their outfit is fully breathable so they don’t overheat, and to shield baby’s scalp face and eyes with a suitable sun hat. Try to avoid the mid-day sun and if baby is jaundiced, the sunlight through a clear glass window should be adequate.

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Tradition can cause old wives tales and with our culture’s obsession with cleanliness, I’ve heard stories of skincare routines including trying to scrub away baby acne and adding antiseptic liquid to the bath water!! PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. Nothing more is better for baby’s gentle skin than a mother’s touch, lots of love, a gentle soap and soft moisturiser.

Just as our skincare needs change we need to adjust baby’s skincare routine through the seasons as well. In Johannesburg we get extremely harsh winters and baby’s delicate skin needs to be protected and nurtured so we can smother them in kisses all day long!

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