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Common symptoms of cradle cap parents should not ignore

Does your baby have yellow, greasy patches on their head? This could be a symptom of cradle cap. Read on for tips on how to spot cradle cap and treat it!

Medically, cradle cap is known as seborrheic dermatitis. It can appear on babies who are anywhere between 2 weeks to 12 months old. While it might look alarming, cradle cap is rarely serious. It does not cause any lasting damage and babies do not appear to find it isn’t itchy. Since cradle cap can be confused with other skin conditions like cellulitis in babies, it’s important that you learn how to identify it when it appears. Cradle cap symptoms are easy to recognize because of their hard crusty appearance. Cradle cap, as the name suggests appears on top of a baby’s head, however, there are times when it can spread to the face, behind the ears and the legs. 

Also read our blog on Cellulitis in Children: How to Treat it Safely and Quickly

Here are the most common symptoms of cradle cap to watch out for.

Cradle cap symptoms in babies

The first cradle cap symptoms are most often flaky white patches that look like dandruff. This is not to be confused with the normal flaking of a baby’s skin that begins shortly after birth. During this period, your baby is getting rid of the vernix that protected their skin from the amniotic fluid in the womb. 

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In the case of cradle cap, the dry patches of skin will harden and appear flaky. Seeing this, some parents might be tempted to rub the skin and get rid of it. If you do this, though, you might break their skin, allowing the infection to set in. 

Watch out for these symptoms if you suspect your baby has cradle cap. 

  • Yellowish, greasy scaly patches  on the head 
  • Bright red and shiny patches in skin folds
  • Patches on the face, in the armpits, ears, behind the knees or groin. 

Generally, these symptoms indicate a mild case of cradle cap and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, if your baby displays the following symptoms you should visit your doctor immediately.

  • If there is a raw rash behind the ears 
  • If you notice it getting red, swollen or bleeding
  • If your baby is less than one month old and there are a cluster of pimples on their face
  • If the cradle cap worsens or seems to be spreading

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How did my baby get cradle cap?

There are no definitive causes behind cradle cap. It could be a combination of things. One hypothesis is that it is caused by hormones passed from mother to baby, even before birth. This can cause the oil glands, particularly those in the scalp, to get overactive.  Dead skin, instead of falling off, gets caught in the excess sebum, causing the scaly yellow crust that gives it the name. Another explanation is that yeast multiplies in the sebum along with bacteria. 

Also read our blog on Most Common Foods That Cause Eczema in Babies and How to Treat It

Whatever the reason, parents must keep in mind that it is not due to any neglect on their part. It is not contagious and is usually mild and clears up on its own. Only in severe cases will it need your doctor to prescribe a treatment. 

Cradle cap do’s and don’ts

Almost 10% of babies will show mild cradle cap symptoms in their first month. More than 70% of babies will have it by the third month. This means that almost all parents will have to deal with mild to severe forms of cradle cap. As mentioned, if you follow certain precautions and treatments, you will be able to cure cradle cap symptoms in your baby.  

Here a few ways to get rid of cradle cap without medication.


                          Do’s Don’ts
Do use coconut oil or petroleum jelly to soften the crusty areas of the scalp. Don’t keep the baby’s head covered all the time. The scalp needs to breathe and covering it might cause the scalp to sweat more than usual and exacerbate the condition.
Do use baby shampoo or a shampoo advised by your doctor. Don’t rub vigorously or try to remove the crust when it appears loose. This can break the skin, causing it to get infected.
Do pat the head gently dry after a bath. Don’t use anti-dandruff shampoos as they will be too harsh for your baby.
Do use a soft bristle hair brush. It will brush off any loose dead skin flakes. Don’t use soap on your baby’s hair.
Do remember it is not contagious and it will not get passed on to other children. Don’t rub the scalp vigorously while shampooing.


Cradle Cap Treatment

If you’re wondering how to get rid of cradle cap, the good news is that most of the remedies for it are available around your home! Many of the Indian home remedies for dry skin in babies can also be used to treat cradle cap. You can apply coconut oil or petroleum jelly to your baby’s skin before a bath to soften it. If your baby’s skin is very sensitive, it is always advisable to use hypoallergenic soap-free products. You don’t want your baby’s cradle crap to get worse due to the chemicals found in some baby products. If cradle cap does not improve, your doctor might prescribe a medicated shampoo. 

If you can get a humidifier, place one where your baby sleeps. This is especially important in hot, dry climates. Humid air prevents a baby’s skin from drying out.  When skin is well hydrated, it does not produce as much sebum, which is what causes cradle cap in the first place. 

Know the difference between cradle cap and eczema

Many parents confuse cradle cap with eczema. Knowing the difference is important as eczema requires medication. Eczema happens when the body has too few fatty cells. This causes the skin to become dry, crack and get very itchy.  Eczema can affect any part of the body and in this way, is very different from cradle cap. Babies with eczema, usually have a history of it within the family. While eczema can flare up or remain dormant, it cannot be cured. It will need to be controlled by medication.

So how long does cradle cap last? Cradle cap usually gets cured within a few weeks but a few stubborn cases might take a couple of months to clear. Usually, by your baby’s second year, there should not be any further threat of cradle cap. However, if your baby has had cradle cap, it often can return during puberty as dandruff. If your baby appears to have cradle cap, consult with your city’s top pediatricians through the mfine app. Download now and book your consultation!

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