How Do I Take Care of My Baby’s Natural Hair?
A new baby can bring so much joy, and also a long list of things to learn. Keeping their cute little tresses intact is one. If you have an infant (ages 12 months and under) with natural hair, there are a few things to keep in mind.
“When it comes to your baby’s hair, less is more,” says Candice Jones, MD, an Orlando pediatrician and mom of two. It can be tempting to want to focus on the fun part of their hair, such as styling and snapping pics. Instead, focus on the health of your baby’s hair, Jones says.
Start with these tips.
Watch the Washing
Daily washing for babies (and some adults) can strip natural oils. So stick to a weekly wash unless you notice your little one’s hair is getting oily. Then try twice per week. Natural hair texture can vary from baby to baby and among siblings.
If your baby has a tightly curled hair pattern, it may be on the dry side and you may not want to wash as often, Jones says. If your baby has looser curls, you may be able to get away with an extra wash or two per week. Let their hair’s texture guide you.
Your technique also matters when giving your baby a shampoo.
“You want to avoid massaging the scalp too briskly,” says DiAnne Davis, MD, a dermatologist in Dallas who’s treated people of all ages. “Too harsh of a scrub can irritate baby’s delicate hair follicles.”
Baby Hair Care Products: Keep It Simple
Products for babies including shampoos, gels, and oils abound. But babies’ tresses are delicate.
“If you’re going to use something, look for products that have as few ingredients as possible,” Jones says. “Baby’s hair is sensitive in that first year of life and very gentle, so read those ingredients!” Think simple and gentle.
If your baby’s hair is a little dry or you just want to do a mini mohawk, try all-natural products. Check with your doctor, but Jones and Davis say that the safest things tend to be those you can eat. A spritz of olive, almond, or jojoba oil can moisturize the hair and scalp and in some cases the skin. Who doesn’t like a double-duty strategy when you’re taking care of a newborn?
While you admire your baby’s bouncing curls or budding Afro puffs, remember it needs to be detangled. Jones and Davis say that your fingers can make the best combs. Still, it can be hard to detangle with fingers, especially if their hair is dry.
Try detangling on wet or slightly damp hair or use a baby-safe detangling brush or a wide-tooth comb, Jones says. There are other benefits of using your own digits to detangle. “Finger combing can also keep your baby’s natural curl pattern,” Davis says.
Style Baby’s Hair Gently
It can be fun to style your baby’s hair. But avoid styles that pull too tightly on the hair. Some styles like cornrows and braids might be best for the toddler years and older, Jones says.
Keep in mind that “some shedding and patches on baby’s hair are normal,” Jones says. “Your baby’s hair doesn’t need to lay down. Their hairline may be uneven and that’s OK. And they definitely don’t need any chemicals!”
Her advice: Accept it. “We can send early messages about beauty and self-image if we’re not careful,” she says. “I’ve seen older children with hair and scalp issues because of overstyling when they were babies.”
When It’s Time for Sleep
Some fabrics, including cotton, can be drying to natural hair. The friction can cause tiny strands to become brittle or even break off.
You could use a satin fitted sheet that’s snug over the crib mattress. Avoid satin pillows, though. The CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other experts recommend that for safety, babies should only sleep on firm surfaces with no pillows (or blankets, bumpers, stuffed animals, toys, or other objects).
While adults with natural hair may wear satin bonnets or wraps at night to prevent hair dryness, that’s not a good idea for infants. “When babies are very young, they aren’t moving as much, so you don’t want to use anything that can slide over the face,” Jones says.
Communicate With Caregivers
Sometimes hair and scalp issues can be caused by a well-meaning caregiver. So let your babysitter, relative, or anyone else who helps with your baby know what you prefer.
“Your baby, your rules,” Jones says. “Be clear about the products you use and how you’d like others to care for your baby’s hair.”
For convenience, you can keep any hair care products in their to-go bag Also, safety remains key. If your kiddo is spending the night, remind sitters not to place anything on their hair that might be a choking hazard. Save the cute bows and wraps for when they’re awake and supervised or a little older.
Watch for Changes
Infants can have hair and scalp issues. For instance, cradle cap can show up in the first few months. It is a common issue with babies – causing scaly, dry patches. Unlike another similar scalp issue, it is not painful or itchy. It often clears up on its own or with a few extra washes per week with a mild shampoo. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo.
Another issue that can show up in babies, especially those with natural hair, is eczema. A common skin condition in infants, eczema can cause dry, bumpy, or itchy skin. It mostly shows up on the face but can affect the scalp as well. Some studies suggest Black children are more likely than white or Asian children to have eczema. “Parents should also look for any buildup of yellow or white scaly patches or any redness on their baby’s scalp,” Davis says.
You’ll see your pediatrician often with your infant (typically every 2 months). That’s a perfect time to talk to them about any concerns you have about your baby’s hair or scalp.
As busy as parenting is, enjoy the bonding time that can come with hair care. “I think baby hair of all textures, whether springy curls or Afro puffs, is beautiful,” Jones says. “That includes their natural hairlines, edges, and curl patterns. It’s all beautiful.”