With the volume of dirty diapers, spit-up, and drool you encounter as a new parent, you may find that your cleanliness standards drop. However, daily hygiene habits for the care of your baby’s eyes, ears, nose, nails, mouth and teeth, skin, and clothing are basic to her wellness. Hygiene routines also keep you attuned to your baby’s condition.
As your newborn begins to adjust to light and new surroundings, her eyes are sensitive, so keep bright lights and sunlight from shining directly into her eyes. Blocked tear ducts, which are common in the first few weeks, may produce a mucus discharge. You can use light massage, along with drops of breast milk or warm water on a clean cloth, to help clear the drainage from her eyes.
Other causes of discharge in a child’s eyes include a cold, congestion, and conjunctivitis (pinkeye), most recognizable by redness in her eye. If your baby has a discharge in her eyes, you may choose to limit or eliminate dairy and sugary foods, which can produce mucus. If you notice redness and ongoing discharge, check with your health care provider for natural remedies.
For daily care, wash the outside of your baby’s ears with a soft washcloth and warm water. Earwax protects your baby’s ear canal from foreign substances. Swabbing the inside of her ear can increase the risk of infection, irritation, and damage to her eardrum. In addition, swabbing can actually pack a wall of wax against your baby’s eardrum, and this can cause earaches. Painful ear infections happen when the Eustachian tube that links the nose, ear, and throat is blocked with fluid. [My daughters] Emi and Mari did have a few moderate earaches, but they did not have regular or serious ear infections that required surgery. Excess dairy, fruit juice, and sugar in the diet can cause ear infections in children.
Because your baby’s hearing is very acute and sensitive, irregular noise from televisions, loud music, voices, electronics, and machines can startle her sensitive nerves. White noise or soft music can help mask environmental noise for your baby.
Except for minimal washing and checking for discharge, there is little to do on a daily basis for care of your child’s nose when she is well. When the weather changes, it is natural for your baby to discharge mucus while she adjusts to the new temperatures. Again, dairy, fruit juice, and sugar products can create mucus and contribute to a runny nose. If she has a runny nose, a nasal aspirator designed for babies can suction out the mucus. A steamy bathroom can help break up nasal congestion.
Your baby’s nails protect her fingers and toes. Because her nails are so small and delicate, you may be afraid to trim them at first. Small mitts that minimize scratches are helpful in the first few weeks of life. However, once your baby’s nails grow long, they need to be trimmed to prevent her from scratching herself. Start by using a nail file to smooth rough nails, and then trim long nails with infant nail clippers. Leave a little of the white part of her nail so that you do not get too close to her skin. Try cutting your baby’s nails when she is sleeping or after a bath when her nails are softer. Fingernails grow faster than toenails and are more likely to scratch, so they need to be cut more frequently.
It is sufficient to wash your baby’s hair two or three times a week because the hair does not get that dirty, and excessive washing can dry her scalp. Shampoo is unnecessary for the first six months, and it can even be harmful because it can wash off the natural, immunity-building healthy bacteria on your baby’s skin. You can cleanse her hair with warm water for the first few weeks. Once your baby has some hair, you can use a mild shampoo made with natural ingredients. A soft brush or comb with gentle strokes will help stimulate your baby’s scalp and remove old skin.
Your baby’s first growth of hair usually sheds within her first two to three months. Red or blond hair sheds before birth, so these babies may have a period of baldness. Dark hair may stay for a while and shed later before new hair comes in. When your child is ready for a haircut, it is easier and more efficient to trim her hair while it is wet. Be careful of barrettes and elastic bands. Tight hair accessories can pull out hair permanently, and loose ones can be a choking hazard. Dressing up a little girl is fun on special occasions, but be aware of hair ornaments that fall out or pull too tightly.
Mouth and teeth
Your baby’s mouth has many important functions. Her tongue allows her to taste, her teeth allow her to chew, and her salivary glands start her digestion process. Her mouth forms words for her to talk. It allows air to enter her body. Finally, your baby’s mouth is her first tool for exploring the world—she gums and tastes everything to get more information.
At about six or seven months, your baby’s teeth start to emerge. Breast-feeding aids in the natural development of her teeth, jaws, and palate, whereas bottles and pacifiers can cause dental concerns. Dental development is dependent on a supply of minerals that can be found in sea vegetables and green leafy vegetables containing calcium, so be sure to include these foods in your diet while nursing your baby and in her diet when she starts to eat solid food.
Teething is a major transition for your baby. The enamel on her teeth is the hardest substance in her body, and cutting teeth is hard work. When your baby’s first teeth appear, you can start cleaning her gums with gauze or a soft toothbrush. Toothpaste is not necessary, but if you choose to use toothpaste, check to see that it does not contain fluoride, artificial sweeteners, or potentially harmful chemicals, such as sodium laurel sulfate. While your baby is teething, you can help clean her teeth by letting her chew on a soft silicone toothbrush.
Tooth decay increases with the presence of acidity in your baby’s mouth. A diet of sprouted or soaked whole grains and vegetables is alkaline-producing. This helps create a more balanced pH in her mouth, as well as in the rest of her body. By her first birthday, you can take your child to visit the dentist.
Your baby’s skin is the largest organ of her body, and it takes three years to mature. Her skin acts as a protective barrier against air, bacteria, viruses, light, humidity, and pressure. It holds in her body fluids, regulates her temperature, and insulates her internal organs. Even though your baby’s skin is external, it is permeable and porous, so substances that come into contact with it can be absorbed and can affect her internal organs and systems.
For her first few months, before your baby is crawling, a daily sponge bath that cleans her face, neck, hands, and bottom is sufficient. It is neither necessary nor particularly healthful to bathe your newborn every day. Her skin stores fat and has more than 1,000 microbes that help build immunity. Daily baths can wash off these oils and beneficial bacteria.
After the umbilical cord site and the circumcision site (if any) have healed, you can immerse your baby in water. You can use a small bathtub or a bath mat that fits in the sink, or you can bathe together in an adult-size bathtub for close skin-to-skin contact. Make sure you have a good grip on your baby in the water.
When preparing for her bath, gather all the necessary equipment before you start bathing, so that you have everything within arm’s reach and can keep your eyes on your baby. For convenience, mobility, and safety, use a caddy or an apron to hold your bath supplies—washcloth, wipes, sponge, oils, lotions, diaper supplies, and clean clothing. When your baby is clean and relaxed after her bath, she may enjoy a massage and yoga stretches to help her further unwind before bedtime.
You can clean or bathe your new baby at any time of day. As she grows, a bath before bedtime can establish her routine and help her relax by washing away excess salt from her body and loosening tension in her muscles. Bath time can be an enjoyable, relaxing sensory experience, as well as a bonding time. For older infants and toddlers, playing with toys in the bathtub can become one of the highlights of the day. Never leave your baby alone while bathing.
Some common chemicals in skin care products can remove the natural oils from your baby’s skin. When you start using soap on your baby, use mild, fragrance-free soaps, shampoos, lotions, and oils to prevent skin irritation. Unrefined oils with healing properties—such as sesame, coconut, almond, apricot, and avocado oil—are nourishing to her skin and can replenish oils lost in bathing. Add a few drops of oil to her bath, and apply oil directly on her skin after her bath while her pores are open. You can add ground oatmeal or brown rice bran to her bath or put a small amount inside a muslin cloth to rub on your baby’s skin to promote daily health or to heal rashes or skin discomforts. It is not necessary to use talc or powder.
The term cradle cap refers to flaky patches of skin on the scalp that resemble dandruff. Common in newborns, cradle cap is caused by oil-producing glands that make skin cells grow faster than they can be shed. Although it is not an infectious skin condition and is neither uncomfortable nor itchy, it is a good idea to address cradle cap in order to prevent a buildup of dry skin on your baby’s scalp.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is another common skin condition with many potential causes, including reactions to lotions, soaps, laundry detergents, certain chemicals, dry weather, heat, stress, and certain foods. Eczema runs in families, so if you have a family history of this condition, then your baby may be more prone to it. Use a mild soap on your baby’s skin and clothing. While eczema causes itching and can be very uncomfortable, it is treatable and usually disappears before a child reaches adulthood.
Clean, comfortable clothes are part of your baby’s daily hygiene. They also influence her ability to move about the world. Fibers that are 100 percent cotton or organic cotton are the most breathable and comfortable next to your baby’s skin. Cotton is ideal for underwear, sleepwear, first-layer clothing, blankets, diapers, burp cloths, towels, washcloths, sheets, and any other items that contact her skin directly.
Today, partly due to the depletion of the ozone layer, sun protection is an important component of dressing your baby. Even in the shade, the sun’s rays penetrate cloud cover and reflect off water and light-colored surfaces. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under six months not use sunscreen. Instead, you can protect your baby’s delicate skin with lightweight clothing and brimmed hats with a tight weave and special sun-protection treatment. After six months, you can begin using a natural sunscreen. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours because it loses its strength over time.
When choosing your baby’s clothes, try to avoid snaps and zippers made of nickel, because nickel can irritate her skin. Also, try not to dress your baby in tight clothing or in stiff materials—both can cause uncomfortable chafing.
New clothing can contain traces of harmful chemicals involved in the manufacturing process, such as formaldehyde and fabric stiffeners. To reduce the impact of these chemicals, wash new clothes and linens in a mild natural detergent before putting them on your baby.
Good hygiene is a preventive measure when it comes to your baby’s health. With a few simple daily practices, you can keep your baby clean, keep her skin glowing, and keep her body comfortable so that she can focus on developing and exploring.