The skin is our largest organ, and it takes extra time to fully develop. When a baby is born premature (before 37 weeks gestation) that wonderful organ isn’t 100% ready to do its job. The skin issues of premature babies are well-known and largely manageable.
Why is skin so important?
Our amazing skin defines our body’s physical limits, protects us from infection, disease, toxins, and UV rays, helps regulate our body temperature, prevents dehydration, and aids our sense of touch.
Once we’re born, our skin continues to develop thickness for the first year of life. But premature infants whose skin served them perfectly in a water environment haven’t had sufficient time to build their skin so it’s ready to match the many demands of an air environment.
Preemie skin is thin, delicate, and permeable, which makes it less able to fight off disease or toxins, or even to maintain a body temperature critical to survival.
Premature babies need an extra 2-4 weeks for their skin to reach the sufficient thickness to provide a protective barrier against the environment.
Consequently, preemies may have skin irritations or issues that their full term peers do not:
- they cannot sweat to regulate their body temperature
- their skin doesn’t hold moisture and heat well
- water loss increases at places where adhesives were used
- they cannot move toxins out or prevent them entering as well as full-term babies
Common Skin Issues of Premature Babies
Very red skin
Many premature infants have extremely red, very sensitive skin because it’s so immature it’s translucent. The redness will fade once your baby’s skin develops and thickens.
Is indicated by a yellow tint to the skin caused by the breakdown of bilirubin. Like redness, the yellow will disappear as your baby’s liver matures and can process the bilirubin.
Are common in preemies because their skin is so sensitive. Diaper rash is more common in preemies than full term babies. Rashes that appear on cheeks, chin, neck, wrists, and knees are often eczema. Though many babies outgrow these, they can cause uncomfortable swelling, itching, and redness.
Using natural skin products with no chemicals or fragrance will soothe discomfort without introducing toxins through that delicate, permeable skin. Using natural cotton fabric products for clothing and bedding also avoids skin irritants. One cause of skin rashes in older babies is the introduction of solid foods before their little digestive systems can handle it.
Can develop by simply rubbing or scratching your premature baby’s skin because it’s so sensitive. Be sure to check for and check on any sores to prevent them becoming infected. Preemies are highly prone to infections because of their under-developed immune systems, and the skin—a protective barrier against bacteria—isn’t ready to do its job. To prevent the rapid development of infection, check for and treat any
- raised bumps or welts
- open sore that is bright red
- sore that looks like it’s spreading or becoming bigger
- pus or ooze
Your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics, antivirals, or anti-fungal treatments.
Itchiness or irritation
Can happen to sensitive preemie skin from over-stimulation or products. Warm baths, baby detergent, natural ointments or lotions, and avoiding anything (product or clothing) with fragrance will usually soothe baby’s discomfort. Like many preemie skin issues, this will also probably go away with a little bit of time.
Because preemies are so very sensitive, always check that the products you use contain no fragrances, toxins, or chemicals that will irritate the skin, enter baby’s bloodstream, and disrupt other important body functions.
Your preemie’s skin will soon match a full term infant’s and be his first line of defense and pleasure. Meanwhile, once baby is home, you get to rub goodness on all their bumps, blotches, and breakouts—a great way to create more bonding time.
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Published: December 26, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: December, 2017