Are small red bumps popping up on your baby’s body? There are many possible reasons for baby rashes, so it can be difficult to know what causes them.
Chances are, it’s something completely harmless that will resolve itself within a few days. But it’s still important to keep an eye on any rashes that pop up on your little one.
Our medical team will give you the lowdown on the 17 most common types of baby rashes to help you identify those bumps and set your mind at ease.
- 1. Baby Acne
- 2. Cradle Cap
- 3. Erythema Toxicum Neonatorum (ETN)
- 4. Atopic Eczema
- 5. Hives
- 6. Diaper Rash
- 7. Milia
- 8. Impetigo
- 9. Fifth Disease
- 10. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
- 11. Measles
- 12. Miliaria
- 13. Scabies
- 14. Ringworm
- 15. Meningitis
- 16. Chickenpox
- 17. Molluscum Contagiosum
- When to Worry About a Rash
- Make a Rash Decision
1. Baby Acne
This rash is nothing to worry about. Most babies have experienced it. It usually shows up within the first couple of weeks of a baby’s life and can last from several days to several months (1).
Doctors are still not entirely sure why some babies develop acne. But it may be caused by the maternal hormones your baby is exposed to in the womb.
Baby acne is distinguished by tiny red or white pimples on a baby’s cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Basically, they look like a tiny teenager going through puberty.
The best way to get rid of baby pimples is to keep your baby’s skin clean. Gently wipe the area using soft materials like cotton balls or gentle washcloths.
Your baby may need treatment for moderate to severe acne to prevent scarring. Never buy any over-the-counter acne treatment creams intended for teens or adults. These are not safe for newborns. Consult your pediatrician to find the appropriate treatment for the baby acne.
If the acne does not go away on its own, or if it worsens despite treatment, talk to your doctor immediately. Your baby may have a hormonal imbalance issue or other causes of rashes that would warrant a medical exam.
2. Cradle Cap
Cradle cap is easy to recognize and common in newborns. It results in greasy yellow or brown scales at the top of the baby’s head. In some cases, it will move down to the face or neck.
It usually develops within the first two or three months. Cradle cap is not contagious (2).
Nobody is 100% sure what causes cradle cap. However, it is linked to two common factors:
- Fungus: Some babies react to Malassezia, a fungus naturally found on the skin.
- High sebum levels in the affected area: Sebum is an oily substance consisting of fat, keratin, and cellular debris.
Cradle cap won’t cause fever or discomfort for your baby. However, it can cause large flakes to develop. As the scales fall off, you might notice a few hair strands following.
The skin around the scales can become red, and you might notice a smell in severe cases. I find it similar to the aroma of unwashed hair.
Cradle cap will often clear up on its own within a few weeks, although you can help to get rid of it faster. Treating cradle cap is relatively easy:
- Wash your baby’s hair: Using a mild shampoo, lather your baby’s head, and let the shampoo sit for a minute. Then brush the hair with a soft brush before rinsing.
- Apply baby oil: Baby oil or coconut oil will loosen the scales. Brush your baby’s hair with a soft brush to remove loose flakes.
- Soak overnight: Apply Vaseline, olive oil, coconut oil, or vegetable oil, and let it soak overnight. The following morning, wash your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo and rinse.
- Steroid cream and antifungal shampoo: In more severe cases, your physician may prescribe a low-potency steroid and antifungal cream to alleviate cradle cap.
There are special cradle cap shampoos available. These soften the scales quickly, making them easy to remove. The shampoo also prevents new scales from forming.
You should never pick at the scales, although I know it can be very tempting. Removing them from the scalp in this way could result in an infection.
3. Erythema Toxicum Neonatorum (ETN)
ETN is a widespread rash that occurs within the first few days of a newborn’s life. It’s most common in full-term babies.
ETN appears as blotchy red bumps that can sometimes look pale and raised due to fluid buildup. If the fluid looks like pus, this can indicate an infection. But in most cases, it’s only a bodily fluid (3).
The cause of ETN is unknown but is thought to be related to immune system development.
ETN symptoms include a red rash with bumps that sometimes look white or yellow. It shouldn’t cause any discomfort or fever.
This rash most commonly appears on the baby’s chest, neck, and face. It can develop anywhere except the palms and soles.
There is no treatment necessary. However, if it becomes more severe, you should consult your doctor for advice.
4. Atopic Eczema
Eczema can be extremely uncomfortable as the affected area becomes red, itchy, and even cracked.
It could be a long-term, chronic condition that requires extensive treatment. However, it often clears over time as your little one grows (4).
Atopic eczema can be passed down by your parents. If you suffer from it or have previously, your newborn might also develop the condition.
If your baby is born with an increased risk, keep them away from specific triggers such as these:
- Soaps and detergents: Don’t use scented detergents or soaps. Make sure all soap residue is rinsed off your baby after a bath.
- Allergens: These could be cold, dry weather or a humid environment. Even dust mites, fur, pollen, mold, heat, sweat, and certain foods can cause an allergy.
- Certain fabrics: Wool and synthetic materials are known to trigger eczema.
The affected area will become red, dry, itchy, cracked, and sore. This could result in bleeding skin and inflammation, and secondary infections may occur.
The areas of skin affected might become darker or lighter after eczema has cleared, although this is only temporary.
Keeping the skin hydrated is the best way to avoid a rash. Moisturizers, steroids, or eczema creams can help alleviate this. Consult your pediatrician for creams or ointments to help ease the symptoms.
Covering up the area with bandages might be necessary in some instances. However, damaging the skin could cause more eczema.
You may want to consider putting mittens on your baby. Newborns aren’t coordinated enough to scratch, but they might do some accidental damage. I had some great sleepsuits with integrated foldover mitts and found these worked much better than the loose mittens, which quickly fell off.
People of all ages can develop hives. The rash features red raised patches or bright red spots.
Hives can appear anywhere on the body. They’re often extremely itchy and are sometimes accompanied by a stinging or burning sensation (5).
When hives occur, it is because the body has been in contact with a trigger. This could be allergens, such as certain foods, pollen, latex, medications, or insect bites. Infections can also trigger hives.
The trigger causes the body to release histamines. These carry white blood cells to the affected area, which will repair the damage and eliminate the intruder (the trigger). The histamines cause swelling, redness, and itchiness.
The rash will be made up of swollen, red welts of different sizes. They will be well-defined with a pale center and red surrounding it (similar to mosquito bites but usually bigger).
Hives can easily spread across the skin in different areas. They can last a few hours, days, or, on rare occasions, weeks.
Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, are the best treatment for hives. However, you should never give your baby any medication without consulting a pediatrician first.
If your baby doesn’t seem too bothered by the rash and the size of it isn’t concerning, don’t worry. It should ease and disappear within a day or two.
You can always try different methods to ease the irritation. Wet a washcloth in water, similar to the temperature of a bath, and gently apply it to the affected area.
6. Diaper Rash
A diaper rash is something nearly all parents have to deal with at some point in their child’s life. The rash can be mild, with only a few red spots in one area. More severe rashes will look red and tender (6).
The leading cause of a diaper rash is prolonged exposure to urine or poop. Here are some other possible causes:
- Disposable diapers: These can sometimes contain chemicals or fragrances which might be causing the reaction.
- Fungal or yeast infection: Bacterias thrive in warm, moist environments, so they often cause rashes in the folds within the diaper area.
- Food: As your baby starts to have solid foods, their stools will change. Acidic foods are known to cause diaper rash in some babies.
- Antibiotics: These will increase the chance of a yeast infection.
The diaper area will be red, a little swollen, and warm to the touch. The rash can spread to the baby’s thighs, stomach, and back.
Some babies will seem troubled by it and uncomfortable during diaper changes. Older children may be holding themselves because it’s painful to pee.
Treatment and Prevention
A diaper rash can be difficult to deal with. But don’t worry, there are many effective ways to treat and prevent it:
- Keep the area dry and clean: Change your baby’s diaper frequently. Gently pat the area dry — never rub!
- Apply ointment or cream: Diaper rash ointments or creams will treat the area and create a barrier on the skin to protect it.
- Loosen the diaper: A good tip is to use a bigger diaper, as this allows for more airflow. You can even leave your baby without the diaper, but make sure to waterproof the surrounding area, particularly if you have a boy!
My little one loves cloth diapers as they are softer than disposables. Just remember to wash them in fragrance-free detergent, and never use fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
Milia is common among newborn babies. It looks like tiny white spots that usually form around a baby’s nose (7).
Milia is entirely harmless. It is the result of the baby’s pores being blocked by dead skin cells.
Small white bumps will appear on a baby’s face and sometimes even on the limbs or the upper body. They can also appear on the roof of the baby’s mouth or on their gums, looking like little teeth coming through. The spots shouldn’t be itchy or painful.
The spots will usually clear up on their own within the first four weeks after birth. Never try to squeeze them.
Impetigo is a highly contagious infection that causes blisters and sores. Babies and adults can get it, though it’s most common in young children aged 2 to 6 years old. For newborns, it can be dangerous.
The sores and blisters grow quickly and then burst, leaving golden, crusty patches. These may grow and spread to other parts of the body. The patches can also be itchy and painful (8).
The rash occurs when bacteria enters the skin — this could be through a cut or a sore. If someone with impetigo comes into contact with your baby, there is a high risk of it being passed on.
Impetigo usually starts as a cluster of red blisters. These will grow, burst, ooze, and then spread. The rash is itchy, which increases the spreading.
The skin in the affected area will be red, and the lymph nodes may also become swollen.
Mild cases of impetigo won’t require much treatment. By keeping the area clean, it should clear itself up.
A pediatrician might prescribe antibiotics to help your baby’s body fight off the bacteria. Depending on the child’s age, this could be given orally or as a cream.
Trim your baby’s nails and keep them clean to prevent the bacteria from spreading. Wash the scabs gently, twice a day, using warm water and soap. Dry with a towel that is only used for your baby.
9. Fifth Disease
Fifth disease, also known as slapped cheek syndrome or parvovirus B19, takes its unique name from how it looks. Any guesses on what it looks like?
It starts as small red patches on the child’s cheeks. It is most common in preschoolers, but babies can also contract the virus, and pregnant mothers can pass it on to their babies.
It’s highly contagious but not harmful. After recovery, most people develop an immunity to the virus (9).
The cause of fifth disease is the same as most other viruses. If your baby is in contact with another person carrying the virus, they are at risk.
Apart from the red cheeks, there are a few other symptoms you might notice:
- Fever before the rash appears.
- Stuffy or runny nose.
- Sore throat.
- Upset stomach.
- Anemia (lack of red blood cells).
The rash can be itchy and will start on the face, but it can also appear on the arms, legs, and buttocks.
You should treat fifth disease like any other cold. Your child will need rest and lots of fluids. However, you should always see your pediatrician when a rash occurs. Though harmless, it’s best to rule out other diseases. In rare instances when anemia becomes severe, further medical interventions such as blood transfusion may be warranted.
10. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is another widespread viral disease most common in those under 5 years of age.
The child will begin to develop sores around and inside the mouth. You might find them on the tongue, back of the mouth, or inside of the cheeks (10).
HFMD is due to the infection commonly caused by a coxsackie virus and is highly contagious. It will spread through sneezes, coughs, stool, and fluid from sores and blisters.
Like any other viral infection, children often pass it on to each other.
There are a few symptoms you might notice before the rash begins. These include the following:
- Loss of appetite.
- Sore throat.
After the fever starts, usually within a few days, the first sores or blisters will appear on the hands, feet, or mouth.
These can be extremely painful. Older children will surely complain, while younger children and babies will seem super irritated (because they can’t complain).
Sometimes, the rash appears on the buttocks as well.
Mild cases only need observation. Make sure to check your baby’s temperature often. They should drink and eat plenty to give the body strength. However, more severe cases require doctor visits and hospitalization.
Your baby might be miserable, so comfort them as much as possible. Treat them with cold drinks or ice cream, which can ease the discomfort. Never give salty, spicy, or acidic foods.
Measles is another viral infection similar to fifth disease. It starts as small red bumps with white dots inside the cheeks, followed by a fever.
A rash will quickly appear and spread from the face down the back and torso, making its way to the arms and legs.
The rash will look like red patches at first, but it will soon develop into itchy raised bumps. Measles is most likely to occur in unvaccinated children (11).
Measles is highly contagious and is caused by a virus called paramyxovirus. When a person carrying the virus sneezes or coughs, the virus will spread. The droplets containing the virus stay active for up to two hours outside the body.
The United States was considered measles-free in the year 2000. But it has been appearing again mainly because some parents choose not to vaccinate their children (12).
As the first few bumps begin appearing, you might also notice these symptoms:
- Red and runny nose.
- Low energy levels.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
It is critical you contact a doctor immediately if you suspect your child has measles.
Once confirmed, it is crucial to keep your child away from others to prevent the disease from spreading.
Some studies have demonstrated that vitamin A and antiviral agent ribavirin can play roles in the recovery process (13).
Ensure your little one is as comfortable as possible and watch closely for signs of a fever. Measles can cause the temperature to rise to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which is dangerous.
Talk with your doctor if your child hasn’t been vaccinated yet and is exposed to the virus. They can give an immune globulin injection, which may prevent or ease the symptoms.
The MMR vaccine is usually scheduled at the age of 12 to 15 months, with a booster vaccine at 4 to 6 years.
If you live in a hot environment, your baby might sweat quite a lot. The sweat glands can become blocked, resulting in a rash. This can also happen if your baby is dressed too warmly or if they are in an overly hot room, such as a room with a fireplace that has been burning all day.
The rash looks like tiny red bumps or blisters, as sweat is trapped under the skin. There will be a lack of sweat in the affected area, and your baby will experience a prickly feeling.
Miliaria doesn’t require any treatment since it usually goes away on its own once your baby cools down. Moving your baby to a cooler environment helps. If the rash takes a little longer to clear, your pediatrician might recommend a cream or ointment.
Scabies is an infestation of the skin. People of all ages can become infected. A baby with scabies will develop small, red spots all over the body (15).
Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites which burrow into the skin. (Eww!) It most often makes its way to your baby with the help of friends or other family members.
The rash will feature little bumps that can form a line. There will be extreme itchiness that is worse at night with potential sores and crusty areas. Scabies usually occurs on hands and arms but can develop anywhere on a baby’s skin.
It’s necessary to contact your doctor and obtain treatment that will kill the mites. However, it’s not enough to only treat your child; it’s crucial to treat everyone who might also be infected. Some people choose to treat the whole house.
Ringworm is a common fungal infection. It causes a unique red rash in the form of a ring. Ringworm can develop anywhere on the body.
In babies, it is most often seen on the scalp, feet, and groin area (16).
Ringworm is actually caused by fungi — not a worm! It spreads as people come into contact with others who are infected — humans or animals. The fungi may also be present on bedsheets, towels, and even combs.
The rash will have round patches that are red or silver. It may be dry, scaly, itchy, and swollen. You might also notice blister-like lesions or some hair loss if the rash appears on the scalp.
An antifungal cream, gel, or spray is an effective method. It’s essential to finish the whole course of treatment to make sure the infection is completely cleared.
Meningitis is a severe condition that affects the protective membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain.
While meningitis can affect anyone, it’s most common in babies and children. The infection should be treated immediately. It could develop into life-threatening blood poisoning, called septicemia, which can lead to permanent brain and nerve damage.
Vaccines are available to protect against some forms of meningitis (17).
A viral or bacterial infection can cause meningitis. Viral infections are the most common cause, including the following :
- Herpes simplex viruses.
- Varicella-zoster virus.
- Measles and mumps.
- Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib).
- Group B Streptococcus.
- E. coli.
- Streptococcus pneumoniae.
- Listeria monocytogenes.
- Neisseria meningitis.
A patchy rash with lots of small red spots gathered in one area is the first sign. One way to tell if it’s a meningitis rash is by pressing a glass over it. If the rash doesn’t fade, it could be meningitis.
These are some other symptoms of meningitis:
- Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
- Lack of energy or extreme sleepiness.
- Rapid breathing.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Pale skin.
- A stiff neck and body.
- Swelling of the fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby’s head).
- Drowsiness or unresponsiveness.
- Refusing to feed.
- Not wanting to be picked up.
- Unusual high-pitched cry.
If there are any signs of meningitis, it is vital you get your baby to a hospital immediately. This is a medical emergency.
Antibiotics may be given and fluids to treat dehydration. Some cases require steroid medication to reduce swelling around the brain.
Treatment in the hospital can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Your baby might also need some aftercare once home again.
Chickenpox is a rash due to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection. The baby may first show flu-like symptoms before developing a rash, which appears as red, itchy spots over the body.
Babies are especially susceptible to chickenpox infection because they cannot get immunization until the age of one year old. Fortunately, the incidence of chickenpox has declined by 90% since 1995 with the introduction of the varicella vaccine. Since the prevalence of chickenpox decreased drastically in the general population, there are fewer carriers who can pass the disease on to infants, a phenomenon called “herd immunity” (18).
VZV infection occurs through viral transmission similar to that of measles. When a person coughs or sneezes, the air droplets containing the virus can spread to unvaccinated babies, leading to chickenpox. Transmission can also occur through physical contact with those who have a chickenpox rash. Vertical transmission can also occur when an infected pregnant mother transmits the virus directly to the fetus.
Flu-like symptoms can occur in infants infected with chickenpox days before the development of the rash. The flu-like symptoms include:
- Poor feeding.
The rash starts at the torso and the head, then spreads to limbs over several days. The rash starts as itchy, red bumps, which later become fluid-filled blisters. The blisters burst to become open sores that scab over and heal. This whole process can last from five days to two weeks.
You should notify your pediatrician immediately if you suspect your baby has a chickenpox infection, even if the symptoms are mild. You should also let your physician know right away if your baby develops any of the following symptoms:
- High fever.
- Rash on the eyelid or around the eyes.
- Stiff neck.
- Severe cough.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Extreme sleepiness or difficulty waking up.
- Rash that has become warm and swollen.
Treatment of chickenpox is usually supportive. However, in more severe cases of chickenpox, or if a baby is born with chickenpox (congenital chickenpox) due to an infected mother, the physician may prescribe an antiviral agent called acyclovir.
To prevent chickenpox from infecting an unvaccinated baby, avoid contact with anyone who is infected with chickenpox.
17. Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is another viral infection that causes rashes in babies. The rashes consist of small pink bumps with indented centers. Molluscum contagiosum can occur anywhere on a baby’s body, but it is most commonly found on the head, neck, torso, and armpits.
The rash is caused by an infection with the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV). Babies can get molluscum contagiosum rashes in a couple of ways, such as direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has molluscum contagiosum or contact with objects, such as toys or towels, that have MCV on them.
Most of the time, the only symptom of MCV infection is the rash. The rash appears like pink, skin-colored dome-shaped bumps with central indentations. They can appear anywhere on the body except the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and very rarely on the oral mucosa. The bumps can occur in isolations or in groups.
Treatment is optional, especially in immunocompetent infants and children, since MCV rashes usually go away on their own within 18 months. Some doctors may use a variety of methods such as freezing the bumps (cryotherapy), removal via sharp instruments (curettage), or application of wart removing chemicals or creams. However, many doctors prefer not to use these methods because they can cause burns and skin scarring.
Since molluscum contagiosum can spread from one part of the body to another through contact, it is wise to cover up the areas of rash with small, watertight bandages. Caretakers should also wash their hands often to prevent the spread of the MCV.
When to Worry About a Rash
Babies have sensitive skin, so even the most minor thing can cause a reaction.
Most rashes are harmless and will improve or disappear within a few days. Always contact your pediatrician if a rash looks suspicious or is accompanied by a fever.
Rashes can sometimes be caused by an allergic reaction. With this comes the risk of anaphylactic shock.
These are some of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Hard for baby to feed or swallow.
- Baby is lethargic.
- Increased heart rate.
- Any swelling in the face, around the mouth or throat (19).
Make a Rash Decision
Always take good care of your baby’s precious skin. Don’t bathe your child too frequently using soap. Instead, choose a gentle cleaning product that is unperfumed and moisturizing. End the bath with a lotion or oil massage — this is when you can get a good look at your child’s skin and spot anything out of the ordinary.
Most rashes that appear in newborns are harmless. ETN, baby acne, and heat rash are the most common.
Knowing what to look for should help to ease your mind or let you know when to take action. If you’re ever unsure of a rash and what could be causing it, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician.