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Baby's Personal Care

Your baby's appearance

Most parents expect a well-formed gurgling baby who looks just like mom or dad. Your baby may look quite different at first. Your baby may have a lot of hair or just a little fuzz on its head that seems too large for his or her body. He or she may be long and skinny. Fingers may be long and slender or short and chunky. Skin may be red and wrinkled. Vernix, a white, creamy substance, may still be on your baby's skin. Beneath that, skin may be dry, cracked or peeling. Many babies have milia, tiny whiteheads, on their noses and blotchy red rashes on their bodies. Milia will heal without treatment.

In the first week of life, many babies have skin that is yellow-tinged from jaundice The whites of their eyes may also look yellow. Jaundice is normal in most cases. It is caused by the release of bilirubin from red blood cells after birth. The yellow tinge fades during the first week of life. If the "bili" level is high, your infant may be placed under a special light or blanket. Your baby's doctor or nurse practitioner will check your baby for jaundice in the hospital and let you know if there is a concern. Most babies do not show jaundice until 3-5 days after birth. You are likely to be at home by then. If your baby looks yellow, tanned or "orange" to you, please call the clinic.

In addition:

  • Your baby's head is likely to look longer. This is due to birth canal pressure. Normal shape will return within a few days.
  • Birthing pressure may cause red spots in the whites of your baby's eyes. These are small, broken blood vessels. They do not harm the eye and will fade in a few weeks.
  • You may see reddish splotches on the forehead, eyelids or back of the neck. In most cases these will fade by the end of the first year.
  • Newborn breasts and sex organs may be swollen due to hormones from your body. Swelling will go away within a few weeks. Infant breasts may leak a little clear or milky fluid.
  • Baby girls may have a milky or blood-tinged vaginal discharge. This, too, is caused by your hormones. There is no need for concern. The discharge will slow and stop as time passes.
  • Many newborns have baby acne in the first few weeks. It looks like small red bumps or pimples on the face, scalp and chest. Wash gently with plain water. No special lotions or creams are needed.
  • Feet may turn in or out. Legs may appear bowed. Both are results of being curled up in your uterus. In most cases, feet and legs straighten by the time the baby is walking well. During checkups, your baby's doctor will make sure they are changing as they should.

Bathing, skin, hair & nail care

Giving your baby a sponge or tub bath 1-2 times a week is enough. Daily baths are not needed as long as you keep the diaper area and skin creases clean and dry.

Once you start to give a bath, never leave your baby alone. If you forget something, wrap your baby in a towel and take him or her with you.

Once your baby becomes used to bathing, it should be pleasant for both of you. Choose a time before a feeding when your baby is just waking up or in a quiet, alert state. Avoid times when your baby is agitated, fussy or hungry. You will need:

  • Wash basin or tub
  • Water should be at or a little above body temperature (about 100 degrees F)
  • Towel and washcloth
  • Mild soap
  • Baby shampoo
  • Diaper and clean clothes
  • Brush or comb

For a sponge bath, choose a safe surface at a comfortable height for you. While you run warm water for a tub bath, put a towel in the bottom of the tub. Your baby will rest on a soft surface and be less likely to slip out of your grip. Support the head, neck and shoulders as you gently immerse your baby.

While the water is still soap-free, wash face and ears with a washcloth. Do not use cotton swabs in the ears or nose. With the least amount of soap needed, gently soap and rinse the rest of your baby's body. Shampoo and rinse your baby's hair using a mild shampoo and soft brush. Gentle washing, touching and combing will not harm the open soft spots between the bones of your baby’s skull (fontanels).

Combing or brushing hair daily helps prevent cradle cap (seborrhea). Cradle cap is likely to appear from 2-10 weeks of age. Brownish-yellow scales on the scalp may be thicker over the soft spots if you do not wash the areas each time you shampoo your baby's head. To treat it, gently wash the scalp with mild shampoo. Loosen scales with a fine comb or soft brush before rinsing. (It may help to apply baby oil to soften scaly patches 15 minutes before each shampoo.) If this treatment does not work, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner. You may need to use a special shampoo or cream. In most cases, cradle cap goes away after a few months.

Wrap your baby in a soft towel. Use a second dry towel as needed to be sure skin folds are dry.

When you bathe your baby, clean on and around the umbilical cord with soap and water. Dry the cord thoroughly with a soft towel.

Fold your baby’s diaper below the cord. It will dry faster if urine does not keep it moist. The cord will fall off in 1-2 weeks. It is normal for the navel to ooze a small amount of red or brown matter for up to a week.

Trim nails when your baby is sleeping or quiet. Use small manicure scissors or a baby nail clipper to cut nails straight across.

You do not need to put powder, lotion or oil on your baby. If your child has dry skin, thick cream without perfume is often helpful. Try using Eucerin®, Aquaphor® or petroleum jelly. We do not advise using powder. Inhaled powder can cause severe lung problems. If you do use powder, always it into your hand away from your baby before you smooth it on skin. Never let your infant play with the powder bottle.

Dental Care

The first of all 20 baby teeth will start to emerge around 6 months. They may appear any time between 3 and 12 months. Your baby should have all deciduous teeth (teeth that fall out on their own in most cases) by age 3.

Your baby needs teeth for chewing, speech and normal facial shape. They hold space for permanent teeth that come in later. Baby teeth cannot fulfill these functions if you do not care for them. Here are ways to protect baby teeth:

  • Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle.
  • Do not let your baby nurse for long periods at night.
  • Wipe teeth with a wet washcloth after meals until your baby is 12 months old.
  • When your baby is 1 year old, help him or her brush his or her teeth. This should become a normal routine. You do not need to use toothpaste.
  • Give your baby healthy snacks instead of high-sugar foods. Foods high in calcium help strengthen permanent teeth as they form in the jaw.
  • Your baby needs fluoride from drinking water or as prescribed drops. Fluoride is required from 6 months until age 16 when all permanent teeth are in.
  • Take your baby for his or her first dental checkup by age 3, or sooner if you have any concerns.

Care of the genitals & diaper rash

Use wet washcloths or soft paper towels to clean the diaper area. If you use wipes, choose a brand without scent or alcohol. Diaper rash can range from slightly red skin to very bright red rash with sores. When you see a rash, keep the skin dry and clean. Change the diaper often. Leave the baby's bottom open to the air as much as you can. Zinc oxide or a vitamin A and D ointment can help protect skin. It blocks out moisture. If blisters form or the rash does not clear up in a few days, call the clinic.

If your baby was circumcised, you can expect a small amount of blood to ooze from the penis on the day of circumcision. Wipe a little petroleum jelly on the inside front of the diaper. This will keep the penis from drying and sticking to the diaper for the first day or two. Wash gently with warm water. No other special care is needed. For a few days, you will notice some yellow, moist discharge and swelling around the head of the penis. It takes about 7-10 days for complete healing. If a plastic ring was used, it will fall off on its own after 7-10 days.

The uncircumcised penis requires no special care. Try not to push back the foreskin over the end of the penis. This happens on its own as the boy gets older. When your son is old enough, he can learn how to keep his penis clean just as any other body part.


Use mild laundry soap to wash baby clothes, blankets and diapers. We advise against using:

  • Bleach (liquid or dry)
  • Liquid fabric softener
  • Dryer sheets with or without scent

Small amounts of these chemicals stay in clean laundry and can irritate your baby's skin.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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