10 Recommendations for Caring for the Skin of Premature Babies

The skin of premature babies requires special care due to the delicacy and lack of maturation of their skin surface. Learn more.
10 Recommendations for Caring for the Skin of Premature Babies
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 10 January, 2023

The skin of premature babies is at an increased risk of infection, water loss, and heat loss. Therefore, it’s important to keep it healthy and intact so that it can perform its protective functions. Keep in mind that preemies are considered premature when they’re born before 37 weeks of gestation. Keep reading to learn more about our recommendations.

Caring for the skin of premature babies

The skin’s a natural barrier that protects against infection, prevents water loss, and helps control body temperature.

According to studies conducted by The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the skin of premature babies isn’t fully mature, which is why it requires more care.

1. Take care of your own hygiene and that of your baby

Whenever you come into contact with your baby, you should always clean your hands first to prevent the transfer of any bacteria or germs. In addition, nail care is an important part of grooming because nails can injure the skin on the body or face of premature babies. In turn, a wound can be a gateway for infection. For this reason, there are baby nail files that allow you to do this gently on sharp edges.

2. Avoid frequent baths

Once your baby is settled in at home, there’s no need to bathe them every day. Bathing them once a week may suffice. Remember that newborns don’t usually get very dirty. In addition, frequent washing tends to dry the skin by removing its protective coat.

A woman bathing a newborn.
Bathing premature babies every day or frequently may cause dry skin. One bath a week will be enough to keep it clean.

3. Be careful with the umbilical cord

When a premature baby still has the umbilical cord or the surrounding area is still in the process of healing, the region should be kept dry and clean.

At the same time, every time you change their diaper, you should check the condition of the diaper and keep the top folded down in order not to cover the cord stump. In addition, you only need to rinse it with water and mild soap and dry it correctly.

4. Set the right climate

The room should be warm, but not too hot. This is because premature babies haven’t fully developed the ability to regulate the surface of their skin.

Therefore, the room temperature should be kept between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the room where the newborn’s located should have sufficient natural light and proper ventilation.

5. Dress them appropriately

The skin of premature babies is more sensitive and delicate due to the lack of maturation of its protective functions. When choosing clothes, choose those that are easy to put on and take off.

The clothing should be made of soft and good quality fabrics. At the same time, zippers, labels, and buttons that may cause injuries to the child’s skin should be avoided.

6. Put on clean clothes

Products for washing clothes can cause irritation to the delicate skin of premature babies. Therefore, it’s best to use detergents or soaps for clothes that don’t contain chemicals. This also applies to bedding, blankets, and anything else that comes into contact with the skin of premature babies. Additional rinses help remove any detergent residue left after the first rinse cycle.

7. Breastfeed

Breast milk is high in proteins that help fight and prevent different types of infections in newborns. Therefore, breastfeeding is the most important source of nutrients for babies, especially for those who are premature.

Breastfeeding is the most important source of nourishment for babies and even helps prevent infections of all kinds in little ones.

8. Use emollients for babies

The use of emollients helps to reduce skin infections in premature infants. In fact, a publication in Pediatrics concludes that the application of lubricants such as sunflower oil reduces cases of skin infections or sepsis. In addition, sunflower seed oil has a protective barrier function and its application through massage has a beneficial effect on the little ones.

9. Avoid sun exposure

Sun exposure should always be avoided for babies under 6 months of age. In addition, mosquito nets are an ideal option to keep insects away and protect the skin from bites. However, repellents aren’t recommended, as they have chemicals that can be absorbed by the baby’s skin surface.

10. Avoid cosmetic products

Baths for premature babies should be with a specific mild soap and running water. In addition, perfumed soaps or those containing chemicals in their composition should be excluded. These products can eliminate the natural bacteria that prevent skin infections and tend to dry out the skin. In addition, the use of antibacterial soaps isn’t recommended due to their ability to generate resistance to antibiotics.

Premature babies and medical control

The care of premature babies should always be supervised by a medical professional. The different senses, the nervous system, and the sensory or motor reflexes should be examined periodically during consultations with a specialist.

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  • Kalia YN, Nonato LB, Lund CH, Guy RH. Development of skin barrier function in premature infants. J Invest Dermatol. 1998 Aug;111(2):320-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.1998.00289.x. PMID: 9699737.
  • Franck LS, Quinn D, Zahr L. Effect of less frequent bathing of preterm infants on skin flora and pathogen colonization. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2000 Nov-Dec;29(6):584-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2000.tb02071.x. PMID: 11110328.
  • Darmstadt GL, Dinulos JG. Neonatal skin care. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2000 Aug;47(4):757-82. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(05)70239-x. PMID: 10943256.

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.