Can I Treat My Baby’s Cradle Cap With Breast Milk?

Cradle cap is a common, benign condition affecting newborns and infants’ scalp. Though it doesn’t cause any lasting skin damage, symptoms may only resolve after weeks or months of treatment. There’s no proven cause, but excess bacteria or fungi, nutritional problems, and maternal hormones are possible reasons for developing cradle cap. Many parents recommend using breast milk in a milk bath to help treat cradle cap. 

While changing your baby’s clothes, you take off their bonnet to suddenly find a patch of greasy, yellowish scales, with a very dry scalp. Lo and behold, cradle cap!

Lots of parents have their own homemade solutions to cradle cap, but one very interesting method is using mom’s liquid gold. Many parents definitely want to make sure that it’s possible and safe to use homemade products for their baby’s skin. So let’s delve into cradle cap and how milk can be a possible treatment for this condition.

What is cradle cap?

Cradle cap is a benign scalp condition commonly seen in babies between 3 weeks old to 6 months old, most especially at 3 months old. It’s also known as infantile seborrheic dermatitis at the scalp and is the kids’ version of dandruff in adults.

Around 10% of babies can have cradle cap, and it can recur in babies up to 1 year old. The scalp becomes very dry and flaky. Some parts of the scalp are red or can have yellowish to brown, greasy scales or crusts. If cradle cap is severe, it can spread to the eyelids, eyebrows, ears, neck, and even the armpits.

Although cradle cap isn’t painful or itchy, in some cases, infants may scratch these areas and cause wounds to form. However, getting rid of it isn’t as easy as giving medicine for a few days.

Cradle cap can take a few weeks or even months to fully disappear, but it usually doesn’t return by the time a child turns one year old.

What are some causes of cradle cap?

There’s no definite reason yet for this, but experts notice several risk factors linked to cradle cap:

1. Mother’s hormones

For the first nine months of a baby’s life (before they are born), they are connected to their mom through the umbilical cord and placenta. This means that certain substances can be passed on from the mother to the baby.

Some of these substances are the typical maternal hormones that may trigger a baby’s scalp to produce more skin cells and too much oil. Some experts believe this makes it easier for cradle cap to develop.

2. Bacterial or fungal overgrowth

If there’s some sort of imbalance in the types of microorganisms your baby is exposed to, certain bacteria and yeast can end up multiplying much, much more in your baby’s oil glands or hair follicles.

A commonly targeted type of yeast in this condition is Malassezia furfur. It’s also a popular cause of dandruff in adults.

3. Nutritional imbalance

Several experts think that a baby’s current immune system and nutritional state can affect the skin’s normal functions. Low levels of Vitamin B6, zinc, biotin, selenium, or manganese in your baby can lead to cradle cap.

Breast milk is full of substances that help strengthen a baby’s immune system that might help prevent this condition.

Can breast milk help with cradle cap?

Although there is no solid scientific evidence that breast milk can treat infantile seborrheic dermatitis, many parents recommend it.

It could be due to the plentiful immune-boosting and nutritious substances that it has. In addition, palmitic acid and oleic acid that is naturally found in breast milk both have moisturizing properties. 

Did your baby get wounds because of cradle cap? Breast milk also has natural antimicrobial substances such as immunoglobulins, helpful in eliminating bacteria that can otherwise cause infections in those wounds.

How do I use breast milk to treat my baby’s cradle cap?

First off, don’t forget to use breast milk only when it’s not needed anymore! Breast milk is the most helpful when your baby is drinking it.

A bag with frozen breast milk for future baby feedings

Some reasons that would make it valid to use breast milk are the following:

  • You have too much breast milk, and you’re unable to give it to your child or donate
  • Your breast milk is no longer safe for your baby to drink
  • Your breast milk was frozen for too long

We can use breast milk in a bath. Fill a tub with lukewarm water.

For breast milk, make sure it’s at room temperature first – if it came from the freezer, thaw it first (do not use the microwave!).

If it’s milk that’s past the consumable date, make sure it isn’t foul-smelling or has an unusual color or consistency.

Slowly add the milk to the tub until the water looks cloudy. Roughly 5-10 ounces should be enough. Mix well, then place your child in the tub. Let them soak the mixture for 10 minutes, sponging some over the body.

Dry your baby with a soft towel (don’t rinse with regular water). Apply baby-friendly moisturizing lotion afterward.

What are other ways to treat my baby’s cradle cap?

Petroleum jelly, baby oil, mineral oil, and coconut oil are good alternatives.

Massage a few drops on your child’s scalp, leave on for 5-10 minutes, then remove by gently brushing it off with a soft comb. Friendly tip: avoid olive oil for this!

FAQs

Will cradle cap cause hair loss?

Cradle cap will rarely cause permanent (or barely even any) damage to your baby’s scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis does not cause hair loss.

Is cradle cap contagious?

No, cradle cap is not contagious. There’s still no clear connection between fungal or bacterial infection and cradle cap.

There’s no need to isolate your child from other members of the house because of their greasy scalp.

Is using fresh breast milk completely safe?

Mothers diagnosed with certain active viral infections (like HIV, CMV) or other microbial infections can transfer this to their babies through wounds in the skin or by accidentally entering the eyes or ears during a milk bath.

This is rare. However, if you suspect an infection, it’s best to have a sample of the milk tested.

Takeaway

Cradle cap is a temporary skin condition commonly affecting the scalp of newborns and infants.

Although it may last for weeks or months, it isn’t serious and can be treated with moisturizers and oils. A breast milk bath is one possible method for treating cradle cap.

Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn't a biological mother yet, she has taken two young dogs, named Indy and Obi-Wan, under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.

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