Similar to dandruff in adults, cradle cap is when the skin on a newborn’s scalp gets dry and flaky, or forms oily, white or yellowish scales. Red patches can appear where scales have flaked off. It usually doesn’t bother babies (but it can be unsightly, irking nervous new moms).
No one is exactly sure what causes cradle cap, though some experts think that an excess of mom’s hormones at the end of pregnancy may overstimulate the baby’s oil-producing glands, causing cradle cap’s greasy crust.
Your pediatrician can diagnose cradle cap. If there’s any question, she might refer you to a pediatric dermatologist who can rule out a fungal infection or psoriasis, conditions that also produce yellow scales.
Washing your baby’s scalp and hair every few days with a mild shampoo may help prevent the cradle cap buildup. It’s not contagious.
Cradle cap usually goes away on its own within a few weeks. In the meantime, washing your baby’s hair with a small amount of an over-the-counter mild baby shampoo can help eliminate flakes. Do not use a dandruff shampoo without first consulting your physician. Lather up (being sure to keep it out of baby’s eyes), let the suds sit for five minutes, and then rinse and gently brush out the flakes with a fine-tooth comb. If cradle cap persists or spreads to other areas, like the eyebrows or folds of skin, ask your pediatrician or a pediatric dermatologist about a prescription cream.
Try gently rubbing scales with mineral, olive, or apricot oil and then softly brushing away flakes before washing hair.