Babies get bumps, blisters, and rashes but they don’t have to be a mystery to solve. Most are pretty common and easy to diagnose when you know what to look for.
Baby Rash Causes
When it comes to baby rashes, there are many types and many culprits. Some common causes include:
• Irritants. Common irritants that can bother the baby’s sensitive skin are saliva and drool, poop, baby wipes, detergents, soaps, sunscreen, and nickel.
• Allergies. Allergic reactions can cause a baby rash to appear in a bunch of different forms. Rashes can be itchy, welt-like hives or dry, itchy patches. Eczema is the most common version of a baby rash caused by allergies.
• Infections. Infections can lead to different types of baby rash, the most common of which are fungal rashes. Sometimes, however, a viral baby rash can develop. “These rashes occur when babies have specific viral illnesses and may be associated with fever or other symptoms,” says Anna Bender, MD, a pediatric dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian. A viral baby rash can appear as small dots on the torso and sometimes arms and legs and can last for several days to a week. It may spread for a few days and then begin to clear up.
“Baby’s skin barrier is especially fragile because it’s thinner, immature and the skin is still developing, so that makes it a lot more vulnerable to damage and dryness. It’s also more reactive, especially to things that could be irritants,” explains Lauren R. Crosby, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at LaPeer Pediatrics in Beverly Hills, California. Baby’s skin is typically ultra-sensitive from birth until around age 2, although diaper rash can continue to rear its head past that age until kids are potty trained.
Keep reading for the most common types of baby rash to keep an eye out for, plus how to prevent and treat them.
These are tiny white bumps usually present on the chin, cheeks or nose and often present at birth or the first few weeks of life. They are a normal response of the baby's oil glands and pores beginning to work. These most often go away untreated after a few week's time. Milia is caused by blocked oil glands. Simply wash baby’s face wild mild soap and water every day. Do not use lotions or oils and avoid pinching or scrubbing sensitive newborn skin.
These red, white or pink bumps are indeed pimples and caused by exposure to mom’s hormones in utero. This is a common newborn malady that will disappear on its own after a month or possibly a few. Simply washing with mild soap and water is all the baby’s skin needs. If it doesn’t go away within a few months consulting with your pediatrician.
It’s actually totally normal for babies to get acne.
“Also known as neonatal acne, it’s a common rash in babies during the first month of life, It’s thought that maternal hormones—those that pass from mother to baby in utero—may cause baby acne to flare.” - Anna Bender, MD
But how can you tell if it’s baby acne or a baby rash? Baby acne typically looks like a bunch of small, red bumps, as opposed to the lacy red of a baby rash.
Baby acne symptoms
• Pimples. Baby acne usually involves clusters of tiny red pimples and whiteheads. • Irritated cheeks. Baby acne usually develops on the cheeks, but it can also appear on the baby’s nose, forehead and sometimes behind the ears and on the scalp. • Persistent symptoms. Baby acne can last up to three to four months.
Prevention and treatment
Usually, baby acne clears up on its own with gentle cleansing. Once in a while, parents might need to see a dermatologist if it’s persisting beyond the normal three to four months, but that’s pretty rare.
This rash is made up of small bumps that may cover a large area and will appear clear, pink or red. This condition is common in hot, humid weather particularly if the baby was dressed too warmly. To more quickly clear up the condition, help the baby feel cooler and avoid overdressing baby by using lightweight layers of clothing in warmer temperatures.
A strep rash on a baby is another type of viral baby rash. Your child is more prone to strep rash if other family members have been exposed to strep throat.
Strep rash symptoms
• Bright red skin. Strep rash on baby can be bright red and beefy-looking with wet, oozing patches in neck folds, or as a bright red circle patch in the area around baby’s anus, Bender says. • Blisters and scabbing. Spotting scabs and blisters on the baby’s skin is another common sign of strep.
Prevention and treatment
Since strep can spread from person to person through close contact, keep baby away from infected people. Unlike your run-of-the-mill neck rash, which can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams, strep requires a visit to the doctor. Once the diagnosis of strep rash is confirmed—typically with a skin swab test—your pediatrician may prescribe an oral antibiotic as treatment.
This red itchy rash causes dry, scaly areas on the baby’s skin. Frequent areas affected include cheeks, legs, arms and the creases of the body. Irritants such as bubble baths, fragranced products or rough clothing. Avoid irritants, bathe baby less frequently and use fragrance-free moisturizers on baby’s skin. Also, avoid temperature extremes.
Baby eczema symptoms
• Itchiness. The more severe baby’s eczema is, the itchier the rash.
• Dry skin patches. This is a common sign of mild eczema. • Pinker patches of dry, flaky skin. This signifies a moderate case of eczema. • Red, flaky patches of skin. If baby’s skin is a darker red, it signifies severe eczema, which usually comes with worsened symptoms and intense itchiness across more of the body.
Prevention and treatment
Keeping baby’s skin well moisturized with a daily application of a thick cream can prevent the onset of eczema in infants who are at higher risk for the condition—aka those who have a strong family history of eczema or eczema-related diseases. A mild case of this baby rash can sometimes be treated with just moisturizer, while moderate eczema may need a cortisone cream or ointment to treat it. Severe eczema is treated with over-the-counter products.
"Hives can occur soon after baby eats something they’re allergic to or if a baby is fighting a virus, in which case the hives may last for several days off and on,” Bender says. They can appear anywhere on the body, even if caused by food. If the baby rash is sparked by something your child touched, it usually appears on the part of the baby’s body that came in contact with the allergen. If hives are accompanied by wheezing or if the baby’s mouth or tongue starts to swell, see a doctor immediately.
• Pink, blotchy welts. These welts can come and go on baby’s skin. • Itching. Hive welts are often very itchy.
Prevention and treatment
An oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can help treat hives. For a more natural remedy, try dabbing calamine lotion on the welts to soothe hives.
Thrush or yeast infection
Thrush is another name for an infection of candida, or yeast. Candida is normally present in our bodies, but in certain circumstances, it may get out of hand.
In babies, it produces a variety of discomforts, including red, irritated skin patches in the creases of the neck, thighs, and armpits; white patches and sores in the mouth and on the tongue; a white pasty discharge in the folds of the vagina; and diaper rash. It can cause the baby to be irritable and gassy. If it spreads to the mother's nipples, it can make nursing very uncomfortable. Severe untreated thrush has the potential to turn into a major problem if the baby refuses to nurse or develops diarrhea. This is rare, however, and can be prevented by early recognition and treatment with natural home remedies. Mouth yeast infections are also called thrush and thrive in warm moist environments. Thrush is more common with breastfeeding babies and will require treatment of the nursing mother as well.
Causes of Thrush
A primary cause of Thrush in a baby is the use of antibiotics either directly or via the mother's breast milk. Antibiotics, while destroying unwanted organisms also destroy the beneficial flow in the body that keeps yeast and other organisms from proliferating. In their absence, a yeast infection can develop. A baby treated with antibiotics at birth is a prime candidate for thrush. A mother with a severe yeast infection can also pass the infection onto the baby at birth. Any imbalance in the baby's system can allow this organism to proliferate.
- Herbal remedies:
Slippery Elm Bark Powder (replacing commercial powders that use talc) with a pinch of goldenseal powder: dust into the folds of the thighs and arms, under the neck, and on the fanny. It is soothing to irritated skin and helps absorbs moisture. Wash the powder out of the creases with the next diaper change and reapply a couple of times a day. In severe cases add a pinch of goldenseal.
Black Walnut infusion or preferably tincture can be painted in the baby's mouth and on the mother's nipples in tough cases. Apply two or three times a day. The mother can also take a tincture internally, 10 to 15 drops two to three times a day. Avoid getting it on clothing. Alternatively, 3 drops of essential oil of thyme diluted in 2 teaspoons of almond oil can be applied topically as a fungicide.
A salve made from goldenseal, calendula, plantain, burdock, and chickweed will heal cracked and inflamed nipples. If necessary, suspend nursing on a particularly sore breast for twenty-four hours.
Oatmeal washes are also emollient and soothing to inflamed, irritated tissues.
- Yeast thrives in dark, moist environments. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight is one of nature's best cures
- For a thrush related diaper rash, keep the baby's bottom dry as much as possible. Let the baby "air out" (nude, no diapers) each day.
- Nipple shields may contribute to yeast growth on your nipples. Don't wear them if thrush is a problem.
- Use excellent hygiene. Wash your hands after you change baby's diapers, touch your nipples, or touch the baby's mouth. This will prevent thrush from spreading.
- Prescription antifungal medication will be required for yeast infections.
Dietary Recommendations for Nursing Mothers:
-drink plenty of water to ensure an abundant milk supply
- Certain foods such as yeasted baked goods, wheat, sugars, honey, fruit, and fruit juices, and heavy starches can contribute to yeast. Your diet should emphasize fresh vegetables, fish, beans, and whole grains such as rice, millet, quinoa while you are treating the yeast infection. If the thrush clears up and then returns when you resume your regular diet, your baby is sensitive to something you are eating.
Baby Allergy Rash
A baby allergy rash can manifest in different ways, but the two most common signs are hives and eczema. They can be caused by food or medication that baby’s allergic to, or when baby’s skin comes into contact with an irritant, Crosby says.
If you notice the following symptoms, take the baby to the ER:
• Swelling of the lips or face. If the baby’s lips or face become swollen, it’s a sign of a severe allergic reaction and should be treated by a doctor immediately. • Wheezing. Any sign of difficulty breathing is a red flag.
Prevention and treatment
“Treatment depends on the age of the child and what is triggering it,” Crosby says. “You want to remove the allergen or trigger if you can, and use a topical or oral allergy medicine.” Sometimes a blood or skin test might be needed to figure out what baby is having an allergic reaction to, and then a baby rash treatment can be prescribed.
This condition is seen in newborns and is characterized as a thick scaly or greasy patch on the baby’s scalp. It may appear yellow or whitish. You can loosen the scales before shampooing with a soft-bristled brush, or by applying some petroleum jelly or mineral oil prior to brushing. It will usually go away within a few months. If it persists longer, talk to a physician. In spots where it gets thick, you can gently scratch it off as you use a mild shampoo. The following home remedies are helpful:
Rub scalp with sesame, olive, or other vegetable oil. Shampoo it off a few hours later
Wash scalp with diluted Castile soap. This seems to "dry up" the secretion. Diluted with witch hazel tea, rubbed into the scalp, is also an effective astringent.
Place a handful of rolled oats in a small sock or cloth sack. Dampen the sack or sock and rub it well over the scalp while the oats become milky and lathery. This process will soften the cradle cap, which can then be removed with a fine-toothed comb.
Generally, this appears as a bright red rash and is due to exposure to wet or dirty diapers. To treat and prevent diaper rash, change baby’s diaper more frequently and apply zinc oxide or petroleum jelly. Also letting baby’s bottom air out will be helpful in clearing up diaper rash. Treat the rash by moistening and nourishing the skin. A healing salve can be made from 1/2 ounce of calendula flowers, 1 ounce of fresh chickweed, 1/2 ounce of comfrey leave or root, 1/4 ounce of chamomile flowers, 1/2 fresh plantain leaf, 1 pint of olive oil.
Patches or spots of infected sores are frequently a symptom of impetigo. The sores develop as small, fluid-filled spots and then change into pus-filled, runny, or crusty lesions. This contagious skin rash may affect the diaper area, face, neck or hands and looks like blisters or sores. The rash most commonly appear on legs and arms but may be seen on other areas of the body. It is caused by bacteria such as strep or staph and is highly contagious and can be prevented through good hygiene. It often flares up after another sore has been repeatedly scratched and has become infected. It will require treatment with an herbal tincture or antibiotic cream with a possible internal remedy and oral medication as well.
This rash typically appears first on the face then a day or so later on the trunk of the body. It is a raised rash and bright red. The fifth disease will also cause a mild fever and flu-like symptoms. The rash may take a few weeks to resolve and will fade from the center outwards creating a lace type look. Treatment is to relieve symptoms. Usually, older children such as those 5 to 7 years of age get the illness.
These are red salmon patches usually at the back of the neck or between the eyes, also called angel kisses. They are actually just blood vessels that are visible after birth which typically fade.
Babies can have dry and peeling skin as newborns especially if they were a bit overdue. It is not a worrisome condition and will resolve on its own quickly.
This newborn rash looks like mosquito bites or mild hives but is harmless and goes away without treatment.
Meningitis is when the lining around the brain and spinal cord (the meninges) is inflamed, and “is a serious infection because it can be present in the blood and brain and cause organ damage, permanent brain damage or death,” Bender says.
While the viral form of meningitis is serious, it’s almost never life-threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bacterial meningitis, however, can be deadly and calls for immediate medical attention. There’s a vaccine for bacterial meningitis, but it typically isn’t given until later in childhood or before college. You can’t tell the difference between a baby rash caused by bacterial or viral meningitis, and in many cases, a rash won’t appear at all.
• High fever. Take baby’s temperature, since a high fever is a classic sign of meningitis. • Lethargy. If baby is less active than usual, it could be another signal of meningitis. • Vomiting. This symptom is more common in infants, along with a loss of appetite and irritability. • Rashes. Meningitis rashes can vary in appearance, but the most common ones include pink or red dots all over, purple rashes that can look like tiny bruises or broken capillaries in the skin, and an itchy, red rash.
Prevention and treatment
Viral meningitis usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days, but bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical attention so antibiotics can be given as soon as possible. Serious cases may call for hospitalization. If you think baby might have meningitis, call your doctor right away—she can determine if baby has the disease and the type of meningitis.
Dr. Aviva Jill Romm, Naturally Healthy Babies, and Children.
Pink Newborn Care Services
Anna Bender, MD, is a pediatric dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian
Lauren R. Crosby, MD, FAAP, is a parenting expert and pediatrician at LaPeer Pediatrics in Beverly Hills, California.