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Baby Skin Care

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Nail Care
Your baby's tiny fingernails are very thin and sharp and grow surprisingly fast! You may need to trim them as often as twice a week. This is important since newborns can scratch their faces with their own nails.

Use a soft emery board, baby nail clippers, or baby nail scissors for trimming. You may find it easier to do this job when your baby is asleep. To avoid snipping the fingertip skin as you trim the nail, hold her finger firmly and press the finger pad away from the nail as you cut. Don't panic if you draw a bit of blood (this is bound to happen at least once, despite your best efforts). Just apply a little pressure.

Toenails grow much more slowly and are usually very soft. They don't need to be kept as short as fingernails -- a trim once or twice a month is enough. Although they may appear to be ingrown, babies seldom suffer from ingrown toenails. Call your health care provider if the skin around the toenails gets red, inflamed, or hard.

Circumcision
Caring for your newborn son's circumcision isn't difficult if you know what to do. For the first week after the procedure, the penis may look quite red and develop a yellow scab. Keep the area clean using mild soap and water after each diaper change. Coat the head of the penis with petroleum jelly to protect it, and cover it gently with a gauze dressing. Your health care provider will tell you how long to keep the dressing on. If you suspect an infection at any time, notify your provider.

If your son is not circumcised, bathe his penis with a mild soap and water just like the rest of the diaper area. Don't try to pull back the foreskin -- it will gradually retract on its own, usually by his third birthday.

Clothing
Dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are wearing yourself to keep him warm and comfortable. For newborns, this means an undershirt or onesie, except in warmer climates. When the temperature rises above 75 degrees F, you can reduce this to a single layer. Touch your baby's skin often to detect signs of discomfort: If her hands and feet feel cold, add a layer; if her skin gets hot and sweaty, subtract one.

If your newborn is premature or has little body fat, she will be less able to regulate her own body temperature and may need additional layers for warmth. Newborns with little hair may need a cap, especially at night.

Your baby's skin may be sensitive to chemicals in new clothing and to soap and detergent left on clothes after laundering. To avoid problems:

  • Wash all new clothes and linens before your baby uses them.
  • For the first few months, do your infant's wash separately from your other laundry.
  • Use a gentle detergent and a thorough rinse cycle.
Anthony J. Mancini, M.D., is currently Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Dermatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and Head of the Division of Dermatology at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. He is a peer reviewer and/or sits on the editorial board for several academic journals, and has published over 75 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, and book chapters. He is co-author of Hurwitz Clinical Pediatric Dermatology, 3rd edition, and is an associate editor for the comprehensive dermatology textbook Dermatology. Dr. Mancini and his wife, Nicola, a neonatal intensive care nurse, have three children (Mallory, Christopher, and Mackenzie) and reside in Evanston, Illinois.

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