Cradle Cap: What It Is & What To Do

brushing baby hair with soft brush cradle cap

Does my baby have cradle cap?

If you have seen flaking and crusting with yellow or white scales on your baby’s scalp, you are probably noticing cradle cap. Don’t be concerned. There is no evidence that it causes any discomfort to your baby at all. If you are not certain whether your child has cradle cap, your baby’s pediatrician or your doula can help you identify it. 

So, what exactly is cradle cap?

It is a common and harmless skin condition in newborns that usually appears in the first two months. In some cases it can last as long as 6 – 12 months, but that is not typical. 

The cause of cradle cap is uncertain, however it may be caused by hormones from the mother. These hormones cross the placenta before birth and can remain in your baby’s body for several weeks or months. The hormones may lead to overactivity in the oil glands. Dead skin cells normally dry up and fall off. This extra oil may cause these dead skin cells to stick to the scalp and form flaky, yellow crusts and scales. You may be tempted to scratch or pick at the cradle cap but it’s best not to, so as to avoid infection. 

Is there anything we can do about cradle cap?

Since it is common and manageable it can be diagnosed and treated at home. If you are concerned talk to your pediatrician, of course. No specific treatment is needed and it will go away on its own without intervention in as little as a few months. 

You can try the following steps at home which may help shorten its duration: 

  1. Gently massage a small amount of coconut oil, baby oil or olive oil onto the scalp at night. 
  1. In the morning, using a soft baby brush, gently brush your baby’s hair (using caution around their soft spot) to remove any loose particles.
  1. Wash your baby’s hair and scalp regularly with a gentle baby shampoo. Over time the scales should soften, loosen and fall off. 
  1. Shampoos are available over the counter that loosen cradle cap. Talk to your doctor or the pharmacist about these and follow the instructions carefully. They may be stronger than normal baby shampoos and you should avoid getting any in your baby’s eyes. 

On a personal note, my son had cradle cap that was pretty stubborn and lasted longer than what is typical. Like a Mamma ape, I was tempted to pick and scratch at it (softly, of course) to get it gone. Don’t do it. He did not like that at all and  would push my hands away. Okay, buddy I get it! 

Once I started doing steps 1-3 above, massaging coconut oil, and gently brushing his hair we saw progress. This worked perfectly for us and helped to speed up the process of resolving the cradle cap. Don’t worry, it WILL go away. My son’s cradle cap eventually cleared up 100%. 

When should I see the pediatrician?

Consider visiting a doctor if: 

  • This is the first time your baby has developed cradle cap or you’re not sure it is cradle cap, to diagnose properly and discuss options  
  • You are noticing cradle cap in other places on their body, it worsens or spreads 
  • Your baby begins to lose hair or seems to itch at their cradle cap
  • You see signs of infections such as draining fluids, redness, or if the area feels warm to the touch
  • Your baby has a compromised immune system

Remember, while cradle cap may appear uncomfortable, and you might not like the look of it, it is not a danger to your baby. The symptoms will clear up on their own within a few months without intervention. Your baby is normal, beautiful and perfect exactly how they are! 

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading