Newborn illnesses & common skin conditions


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We want to be there for you every step of the way, offering support and guidance to help ensure your little one stays safe and healthy.

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It’s understandable that new parents may experience anxiety when it comes to spotting illnesses and conditions in their newborns. If you are concerned about your baby’s health, it is important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.

Baby eczema often appears in the first year after a baby is born. Atopic eczema shows up as patches of dry, red, itchy skin that feel rough and tends to flare up in areas such as the crook of the arm or behind the knees. There are a number of things that can trigger atopic eczema in babies, from certain fabrics and detergents to bubble baths or even cow’s milk allergies. Genetics can also be a potential cause of atopic eczema.

Eczema can be managed at home by working to avoid any known triggers and keeping the baby’s room as cool as possible. You can help maintain a healthy skin barrier by gently washing baby with lukewarm water only in the first few weeks, after this if you choose to use products make sure any baby products (like cleansers or moisturisers) are unperfumed and suitable for sensitive skin. If the eczema is persistent, speak to your pharmacist or GP. 

The main symptom of cradle cap is patches of greasy, scaly skin on the baby’s scalp and face and sometimes the nappy area. The skin can have: 
- patches of white or yellow greasy scales that form a crust, which might flake off 

- small, dry flakes of skin on the nappy area

Cradle cap is harmless and will usually go away on its own in 6 to 12 months. It isn’t itchy or painful and it won’t bother your baby. To help cradle cap, you can lightly massage an emollient (moisturiser) onto the scalp to help loosen the scales, and gently brush the scalp with a soft brush before washing with baby shampoo. Refrain from using any types of oils such as olive oil on the affected areas, and don't pick the skin as this can lead to infection.

Acne is common in newborns, especially in the first few weeks after they are born. Newborn acne (or neonatal acne) is a harmless skin condition that occurs when the pores become clogged with sebum. It usually clears up without treatment within a few weeks or months and shouldn’t leave any scarring.

Also known as milk spots, milia is a common skin condition in newborn babies where white spots appear on the baby’s face. They are small cysts that form below the skin’s surface and almost look as though milk has been sprayed on their face. Normally, they tend to cluster around the nose, forehead and cheeks, but you may also spot them on the upper arms, hands, feet and mouth. Milia are completely harmless and painless to babies and will usually disappear within a few weeks without treatment.

Speak to your GP or call 111 if you’re worried about your child’s rash and you’re not sure what to do. Find out more about common baby skin conditions. 

Nappy rash is common and can normally be treated at home. Symptoms include red or raw patches of skin that can look sore and feel hot to the touch. You can help prevent nappy rash by changing nappies frequently and keeping the skin clean and dry. It’s also important to make sure their nappies fit properly and that you are only cleaning their skin with water or fragrance-free baby wipes or cotton wool and lukewarm water.

Speak to your GP if your baby’s nappy rash doesn’t get better, gets worse or spreads to other areas of their body.

Crying can be common for babies and is one of many ways in which they communicate. Most babies cry when they are very hungry, uncomfortable, feel scared or stressed, or need a cuddle. 

However, when your baby exhibits other symptoms, with or without crying, it may raise your concerns and prompt you to seek medical assistance.

Contact your GP for an urgent appointment if your baby seems unwell, has a high temperature, seems lethargic, has difficulty feeding, or you notice any rashes, bruises or swelling. Take your baby to A&E or call an ambulance if they seem ‘floppy’, or pale, their skin is blotchy or has a blue or purple hue, if they are bleeding, you notice they have difficulty breathing, or your instinct tells you something is not right. Life-threatening illnesses are rare in babies, but if you’re concerned about your baby, always trust your instincts and seek urgent medical help. 

Your pharmacist will be able to help you with everyday conditions and illnesses, such as: 

• baby acne

• coughs and colds

• cradle cap

• colic

• nappy rash

• oral thrush

• sticky eyes

Jaundice that develops after 24 hours after birth is common and usually harmless. Over half of all babies in the UK develop it within a week of their birth.

The yellow discolouration is caused by an excess of bilirubin in the baby’s blood, which causes a yellow discolouration to the skin and whites of their eyes, although it may also be seen in their gums, palms of hands and soles of feet. It may also turn your baby’s urine dark yellow (should be colourless) and their poo a pale colour (should be yellow/orange).

Your midwife will make a note of it and monitor your baby’s colour and behaviour for the following few days/week. Although jaundice usually disappears within 10-14 days, it can take longer if the baby is breastfeeding. In the latter case, or if your baby appears ‘too yellow’ or your midwife has any other concerns, a blood test may be offered to check your baby’s bilirubin levels. The results will indicate whether your baby may need treatment under UV light (phototherapy).

Although jaundice is not usually a cause for concern, it is important to have your baby checked and to seek prompt medical attention if you observe other symptoms or are concerned about their behaviour (they may be more sleepy, less interested in feeding, ‘jittery’, or have a high-pitched cry).

Colic is when your baby cries repeatedly without there being an obvious cause. Your baby may have colic if they cry more than three hours a day, three days a week for at least one week, whilst being otherwise healthy.

They may also have colic if they are crying and: 

• they’re hard to soothe or settle 

• they clench their fists 

• they go red in the face

• they bring their knees up to their tummy or arch their back

• their tummy rumbles or they’re very windy

Colic is fairly common, with one in four babies suffering from it, and it should get better by the time they reach three to four months old. Dealing with a crying baby can be upsetting and stressful, so finding support to cope is essential. You can try handing your baby to a loved one or a trusted neighbour for 10 minutes whilst you take a breather, playing some soothing music and/or humming whilst you hold your baby, or counting as you breathe in and out (focusing your mind on something else). 

Your midwife or GP would normally advise you to: 

• hold or cuddle your baby when they’re crying 

• sit or hold them upright during feeding to stop them from swallowing air 

• wind them after feeding 

• rock them gently over your shoulder or in their Moses basket or crib

• bathe them in warm water

• use gentle white noise in the background, like the radio or TV 

You may also consider trying anti-colic drops or anti-colic bottles (if you’re bottle-feeding your baby) to help prevent your baby from swallowing air when they feed. If your baby continues to cry and you’re getting worried, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Reflux is when babies bring up a small amount of milk or are sick during or shortly after feeding. 

Other symptoms include: 

• spitting up milk during or after feeds several times a day, which may upset them 

• hiccups or coughing when feeding

• being unsettled whilst feeding

• crying and not being able to settle

• poor weight gain 

• swallowing or gulping after being burped or fed

It usually starts before a baby is eight weeks old and will get better by the time they turn one. About half of newborn babies get reflux and it isn’t usually a cause for concern. Reflux doesn’t normally need to be medicated, but you can ask your GP or health visitor for advice and support on the best positions for feeding which may help ease reflux. You should also speak to your GP if your baby is not gaining weight or is losing weight.

Meningitis is a serious infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. While it can affect anyone, it’s most common in babies, young children, teenagers, and young adults.

The symptoms to look out for in babies include: 

• a fever

• cold hands and feet 

• refusing food and vomiting 

• stiff neck

• dislike bright lights

• tense

• bulging fontanelle (soft spot)

• being fretful or not liking being held

• being drowsy, floppy or unresponsive 

• rapid breathing or grunting 

• pale, blotchy skin or spots or a rash that does not fade when a glass is rolled over it 

• convulsions or seizures

Call 999 or seek medical help immediately if you think your baby has meningitis. These symptoms can appear in any order, and they might not get every symptom. 

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection. It is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning. Whilst anyone with an infection can get sepsis, babies under one, particularly if they are premature, are at risk.

The signs for spotting sepsis in children and babies are: 

• fast breathing

• fits or convulsions

• looking mottled, blueish or pale 

• rashes that don’t fade when pressed 

• feeling lethargic or difficulty waking 

• feeling abnormally cold to touch 

• not feeding

• vomiting repeatedly

• not passing urine for 12 hours 

If you notice any of these signs, call 999 or seek urgent medical attention. For more information on sepsis, you can visit Sepsis Trust

Febrile seizures (or convulsions) are fits that can happen when a child has a fever, most commonly between the ages of six months and three years old. They are usually linked to a raised body temperature following an infection.

These convulsions usually last for less than five minutes. Signs of a febrile seizure are:
• becoming stiff with twitches in the arms and legs

• loss of consciousness 

• wetting or soiling themselves 

• being sick or foaming at the mouth 

• eyes rolling back

These seizures are usually harmless and almost all children make a complete recovery, but it's important to get medical help if your child has a seizure. If your baby is having a seizure: 

- Clear any objects from around the baby, before placing pillows or soft padding like a rolled-up towel around the baby to prevent them from hurting themselves 

- Try to cool the baby down, taking off any bedding or clothes 

- Once the seizure has stopped, place the baby in the recovery position to keep their airway open

- Call 999 for emergency help. As you wait for help to arrive, try to keep your baby calm and keep a note of how responsive they are. 

NHS information on newborn serious illnesses


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It is perfectly normal for a newborn's skin to shed for the first few weeks after birth, the shedding is due to the protective coating they had in the womb being no longer there so their skin is getting used to the outside world. To help prevent dryness and peeling it is best to not bathe your baby too often, give shorter baths rather than long soaks and refrain from using any moisturisers and bubble baths or soaps with harsh chemicals. Ensure you dry your baby carefully by patting them dry instead of rubbing which can irritate and strip the skin of its natural oils. 

It is better to wait until your newborn is a few weeks old and their skin has matured before using any moisturises. Cleanse your baby's face with lukewarm water, pat dry and try to avoid exposure to environmental elements such as the wind and cold. 

If your newborn's skin is dry or cracked, try to avoid creams or lotions as they may cause further problems. Use plain water with no soap or baby bath products to cleanse your baby and try not to use baby wipes until your baby is at least 2-4 weeks old. After a few weeks, your baby will have formed a natural protective barrier on their skin, at this stage you can use an emollient-based cream if needed.

A stuffy nose usually isn't the sign of a problem and will generally clear up within a few days with no treatment needed. However, if the congestion doesn't clear up, your baby is struggling to breathe, they have a blue tint to their skin, especially around their nails and lips or you are generally concerned, seek urgent medical assistance.

To help with nappy rash ensure your baby's nappies fit right, change dirty nappies as soon as possible, clean the area with plain water and cotton wool, or fragrance-free wipes and allow your baby nappy free time when possible. If the nappy rash is causing your baby discomfort speak to a pharmacist who can help recommend treatments such as barrier creams.

Jaundice occurs in newborns due to an excess of bilirubin in their blood, bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells break down. When there is too much bilirubin in the blood it can cause jaundice. Jaundice is common in newborns as they have a high number of red blood cells as their livers aren't yet fully developed, and they are less effective at removing the bilirubin from the blood. 

A normal temperature for babies and children is around 36.4C, anything higher than 37.5C is classed as a fever. 

Content written by Midwives from My Expert Midwife

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Page last reviewed by Boots Pharmacy team on 16/08/2023

When your little one gets poorly it can be daunting, so Boots Health Hub is the place to go for all things baby health. Explore all the newborn advice, tips and services we have right here, and learn all about congestion, meningitis and cradle cap, helping you and your baby one step at a time.