How to take extra care right from the start
Taking care of baby skin during its initial formative years will lead to healthier skin when baby is no longer a baby. So what can you do to care for that tender skin and protect it from the harsh winter elements? Gentle is as gentle does when it comes to treating delicate skin, says Jenna Streicher, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Here's what she suggests you do to baby your baby's skin this winter.
1. Conserve Body Heat
Babies lose heat more quickly than adults do, so it's important to help them regulate their body temperature. "Use several layers, and put an extra layer of clothing on babies that you wouldn't necessarily wear as an adult," Dr. Streicher says. "But be careful not to 'over-bundle.' Put your hand on the baby's belly and back and if it's too warm or sweaty, remove a layer."
Temperature regulation is obviously more critical if a baby is outside. Put a cover on the stroller if you're planning on facing the elements for more than a few minutes, even if it's just a chilly day.
Remember, too, that heat escapes more easily from babies' hands, feet, head and ears. "Put a hat, mittens and socks on your baby," she says. "Their noses are also at risk, so always limit the amount of time they're outside in cold weather."
For safety's sake, don't leave your baby in a full bunting suit or snowsuit in a car seat. "Use blankets if the baby is cold, because it's difficult to secure a harness tightly around thick clothing," Dr. Streicher says.
2. Moisturize for Softness
Biting winds, frigid temperatures and central heating can be very drying for a baby’s skin. Through all stages of baby's growth, be vigilant about moisturizing the skin so it stays hydrated longer.
"Ointments are more effective than lotions or creams in the wintertime. Ointments tend to come in tubs or tubes versus lotions that are often in pump bottles,” Dr. Streicher says. “Look for products that have a higher proportion of emollient than water for use during the winter and save the lighter, more water-based products for summertime use.”
Apply ointment directly, all over baby's body and right after bathing for optimum absorption. Take special care to apply on the face. Ointment forms a barrier to help prevent chapping, which can occur on baby's cheek when saliva drips there.
3. Bathe Better
There's no set rule about how much or little to bathe babies, but common sense should always apply, including regulating temperature. For safety, use warm water (not hot) at approximately 100 degrees and only fill the tub with about 2 inches of water or to the baby’s hips. In order to keep baby warm during the bath, you can pour warm water over their body. Don’t bathe for more than 5 to 10 minutes, because being in water too long can lead to dry skin.
"Babies really only need bathing two to three times per week, but some parents enjoy bathing as part of an evening routine and for bonding purposes," she says. “Especially in wintertime, it's important, especially if you bathe baby more frequently, to apply moisturizer immediately after the bath.”
Read product labels carefully so you choose a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser that's formulated especially for babies' skin.
4. Beware These Skin Conditions
Babies can develop a variety of skin problems, says Dr. Streicher. The most common are:
a) Eczema: Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a chronic, itchy skin condition. It can often first appear or significantly worsen in winter when skin gets dry. That can lead to more itching and the skin may even "crack" open," she says.
b) Heat rash: Parents may notice a blotchy, prickly heat rash with little bumps if baby gets over-bundled and sweats. It may appear on the face, or in folds of baby's skin, and is caused by sweating that clogs baby's pores.
"This will resolve if baby cools off," she says. "As we've said before, remove clothing layers if the baby is over-bundled."
c) Diaper rash: "The diaper area should be kept clean and dry," she says. "Make sure you don't excessively scrub or rub the area, because that can irritate it more. Gently clean the area with water or wipes that are specifically designed for babies and then slather on diaper paste in a thick layer."
d) Sunburn: Yes, it can happen to the littlest children, especially if they're outside in the warm sun as it reflects off of sparkling snow. For babies less than 6 months of age, the best options are sun protection from clothing and avoiding direct sun. In babies 6 months of age or older, it is also safe to use sunscreen on exposed areas.