Some newborns may look a little beaten-up for a few days after they are born. After all, birth is not an easy process for a mother or a baby. Some babies heads become misshapen during birth, and some babies have puffy eyes. About half of all newborn babies will have red, blotchy skin, and while no one knows what causes these blotches, they are perfectly harmless and are no cause for concern. The condition is known as erythema toxicum in the medical world, although there is nothing toxic about it.
Erythema toxicum is a common newborn skin condition that usually presents within the first few days after birth. This newborn skin rash may consist of hard bumps that look white or yellow, or appear to be fluid-filled, and are surrounded by red splotches. Sometimes there are no bumps at all, and the skin simply has a red, blotchy appearance. The blotches may be confined to one area of the body, or they may be more widespread, showing up on the baby’s face, stomach, legs and arms. The reddened, splotchy areas may appear for a few hours in one place, then disappear, only to have new red, splotches appear on another area of the body. Studies of the fluid that sometimes fills the bumps in this transitory rash have shown that there is no virus or bacteria present in the fluid, and no pus, so erythematic toxicum is no cause for alarm.
Ertythema toxicum is not linked with any underlying health problems and does not cause an infant to feel any discomfort. It usually disappears entirely by the time that the newborn baby is a week or two old. Because the condition is benign, no treatment that is required. The rash will go away on its own, in a fairly short time. Because there is no treatment needed, creams, lotions and excessive washing is neither required nor advised. Gently washing the baby’s face with warm water once or twice a day and keeping the diaper area clean is all that is needed for newborn skin, even when erythematic toxicum is present.
Erythema toxicum seems to occur equally among babies of all races, and there is an equal distribution between boys and girls. There seems to be no connection to birth weight or other factors, so erythematic toxicum is a common rash that can affect all kinds newborn babies. While there is some speculation that this rash may be linked to minute trauma, allergies or hair follicle irritation, there is nothing conclusive known to cause eyrthema toxicum.
When one takes the time to note that a newborn infant has spent nine months soaking in a warm bath of amniotic fluid containing maternal hormones, among other things, it is no wonder that newborns are prone to a host of benign rashes as their tender skin adjusts to the new, dry environment, as well as being touched, washed and swaddled in a variety of natural, and not-so-natural, fibers. As unpleasant as some of these rashes look, most of them are gone within weeks, or even days, making newborn skin amazingly resilient and adaptive. While as parents, our tendency is to worry over every red splotch and bump, we may better off marveling at how much a newborn baby is able to adapt to in a very short period of time. Now that is truly amazing!
Albert C. Yan, MD, “Erythema Toxicum,” eMedicine.