Cradle cap – What you need to know

If you are worried that your baby may have cradle cap, you do not need to worry. It is not anything you are doing that has caused it, it usually clears up on its own, it isn’t contagious, it doesn’t usually cause your baby any discomfort and has no serious long term affects. Please read on for more details:

What is cradle cap?

The medical term for cradle cap is seborrhoeic dermatitis. It is usually found on the scalp of your baby’s head but can also appear on her face, ears, neck and the folds in her skin. It is recognisable by greasy yellow patches on the scalp, red skin on the affected area, scales and flakes and/or yellow crusts on the scalp. It is an extremely common condition and doesn’t usually cause any discomfort.
Does my baby have cradle cap?
If large, greasy, yellow or brown scales are visible on her scalp, then it is likely to be cradle cap. The scales will eventually start to flake which may cause the affected skin to appear red, this could result in some hair loss.

What causes cradle cap?

It is not known exactly what the causes are; however, it is thought that it may be linked to overactive sebaceous glands. Overactive sebaceous glands are present when babies retain some of their mothers’ hormones for several weeks after birth. Sebaceous glands are glands in the skin that produce an oily substance called sebum. The excess sebum that is produced causes old skin cells to stick to the scalp instead of falling off as they would do normally. Research also suggests that babies who get cradle cap often have family members who suffer from asthma or eczema. It is not caused by lack of care or poor hygiene and does not mean you are doing something wrong or not caring for your baby properly.

Is it contagious?

Cradle cap is not contagious and as long as it isn’t causing your baby any discomfort, you can carry on as normal.

Does it have any long term affects?

It is most likely to appear when your baby is under 2 months and tends to last only a few months or so. It usually clears up by the age of 2 but in some cases may last a lot longer. There is a small possibility that a baby who has suffered from cradle cap may also suffer from dandruff when they are older as this is also a form of seborrhoic dermatitis.

How can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment for cradle cap. It usually clears up in its own time. You may want to massage some baby oil, olive oil or petroleum jelly into her scalp before bed, this will help to loosen the crusts of skin. In the morning you can brush her hair with a soft baby brush or a cloth and gently remove any loose flakes of skin. You will then need to wash your baby’s hair again. It is important not to pick at the scales as this could result in your baby getting an infection. Cradle cap treatment shampoos are available from most pharmacies without a prescription; ideally you should take your baby with you to the pharmacist so they can recommend a treatment shampoo that is suitable for both the seriousness of her condition and her age. It is also helpful to get a professional opinion on whether you need to see a GP or not.

Do I need to see a GP?

You should contact your GP about your baby’s cradle cap if any of the following apply:

  • You have been treating your baby’s cradle cap as stated above and there are no signs of improvement.
  • It is causing your baby discomfort such as itching or swelling.
  • It is not limited to your baby’s scalp and is on your baby’s face or body.


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