5 Natural Baby Remedies For Common Ailments Every Parent Should Know

Try these drug-free and safe home treatments to cure baby’s constipation, eczema, cradle cap, and diaper rash.

April 4, 2017
natural baby remedies

As a new mom, I jumped to call the pediatrician anytime my baby so much as cleared her throat. Diaper rash, red bumps on her legs, weird goop in her eye—you name it, my daughter had it, and I was describing it vividly to an incredibly patient nurse over the phone. 

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When it comes to your kids’ health, it’s easy to jump to worst-case scenarios. But most of the time, while I mentally braced for referrals to specialists and complicated treatments, I learned that the issues I was struggling with—infant constipation, cradle cap, eczema, and diaper rash—were common ones, and what’s more, that I could soothe them with natural remedies I already had at home. 

Related: 20 Things You Really Don't Need To Buy For A New Baby

To learn more about the root causes of common baby ailments and natural, drug-free cures, I spoke with Dr. Susan McCreadie, a board-certified pediatrician specializing in holistic medicine. It was a relief, and an empowering moment as a new mother, to realize that easy, drug-free solutions to my baby’s woes were at my fingertips. Here are 5 natural remedies for common baby ailments every parent and caretaker should know. 

breast milk
JGI/Jamie Grill/getty
Use Breast Milk For Cord Care

It’s common knowledge that breast milk is nature’s perfect food for a baby. But it turns out that breast milk does good on the outside, too.

Breast milk and colostrum contain antibodies, which can help fight bacteria on the skin. After birth, your baby’s umbilical cord stump tissue begins to die. Cleaning the cord stump with antiseptics, as recommended by the World Health Organization, can also kill the white blood cells that signal the body to separate from the cord. Several studies have found that washing the umbilical cord stump with breast milk, instead of antiseptic solution or ethanol resulted in the cord falling off faster, without increasing the rate of infections.

Breast milk’s disease-fighting power has also been used to help with issues like diaper rash and clogged tear ducts

If your pediatrician agrees that it will help your baby’s particular infection, wash your hands well and wipe your nipple area clean so you don’t introduce germs along with your milk. 

For clogged tear ducts, hand express a few drops into the baby’s eye once or twice a day. 

For a diaper rash, wipe the baby’s bottom clean, hand express some milk onto the area, and let air dry for a minute or two before replacing the diaper. If your baby squirms on the changing table and hand expressing during a diaper change isn’t an option, your best bet might be to pump a little milk into a sterilized container immediately beforehand. Use fresh milk, since freezing and reheating milk can destroy many of the antibodies.

cradle cap
Use Cod Liver Oil And Shea Butter For Cradle Cap

Cradle cap flakes usually doesn’t bother the baby, but they can get on a new parent’s nerves. Cradle cap is a form of dermatitis, caused by yeast or heightened amounts of hormones that stimulate oil production. It looks like thick, crusty or oily patches of skin on the baby’s scalp, and it’s difficult to remove. It’s common throughout infancy and even into toddlerhood. 

If cradle cap is especially persistent, a pediatrician may prescribe an antifungal cream. Otherwise, parents are mostly left to their own devices to figure out how to wash their baby’s scalp to loosen cradle cap scales. (My mother told me she scraped my cradle cap off with a playing card!) 

According to Dr. McCreadie, cradle cap may get its start in the gut, not the scalp. “Cradle cap, eczema, and keratosis pilaris can all be a signs of essential fatty acid deficiency.” McCreadie prescribes cod liver oil to help babies get enough omega-3 fats. Your pediatrician can point you to DHA supplements that are safe for newborns.

When it comes to treatments at skin level, there are a few options. Softened cradle cap flakes may loosen more easily—you can soften cradle cap by applying an oil, though you’ll want to be careful of which kind, and then use a soft toothbrush or a fine-toothed comb to gently remove the flakes. The structure of the fats in coconut oil helps some people, including preemie babies, lock moisture in. It’s a better choice for this work than olive oil, which researchers found actually weakens the skin barrier. McCreadie’s first pick is shea butter, which she said tends to cause fewer allergic reactions than coconut oil. 

baby with eczema
Use Oats For Baby Eczema

Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of baby eczema, usually looks like rough, red, scaly or bumpy patches. When babies scratch itchy bumps, those sharp little nails can cause further damage. 

Baby eczema can be caused by a variety of things: environmental irritants, dry skin (babies’ skin isn’t as effective as adults’ at holding moisture), or a weaker immune system can all contribute. 

Many pediatricians prescribe steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, as a short-term treatment for dermatitis rashes. While these creams are considered safe for babies when used as directed, some parents are nervous at the prospect of using a steroid treatment on their infant. Using too much steroid cream, or relying on it long-term, has been linked to side effects like skin thinning, stretch marks, contact dermatitis, and Cushing’s syndrome. 

Parents hoping to avoid steroid creams should ask about oats. 

We’re not talking about the kind of oats you cook up for breakfast. Colloidal oats are ground superfine, almost like flour, and dissolved into a liquid. The anti-inflammatory properties of the oats can reduce stinging, itching, and inflammation, giving tender skin a chance to heal. Parents can try a natural lotion for babies that contains oats, or pour colloidal oats directly into the tub for a warm oatmeal bath. 

crying baby
Use Probiotics And Cornstarch For Diaper Rash

Nothing brings on the parenting guilt like a yeasty diaper rash. Regular diaper rash is basically contact dermatitis, or skin irritation from chafing or being left wet too long. With a yeast rash, the natural Candida that’s always present in our bodies grows more abundantly, leading to rough, sensitive, raw-steak red skin that may not respond to regular diaper rash cream. Babies taking in antibiotic medicine (either directly or through breast milk) or who have recently had oral thrush may be especially prone to a yeast diaper rash. Research suggests that eating yogurt with active probiotic cultures, or even using probiotic suppositories, has helped adult women with yeast infections. Studies on babies are more limited, but a remedy floating around on the Internet is to use plain yogurt as an all-natural diaper cream! Did it work? I asked Dr. McCreadie.

“That’s kind of a messy solution,” Dr. McCreadie says. The probiotics in yogurt can help get Candida levels back to normal, but it works best on the inside, McCreadie said. Your pediatrician can point you to a probiotic supplement safe for infants if your baby is too young for solids.

Try this instead 

“Often what I tell people whose child is struggling with diaper rash is yeast loves warm, moist environments,” says Dr. McCreadie. “Do a dusting of organic cornstarch with every diaper change. That absorbs the moisture and control the yeast count, so the rash will lessen.”  Dust close to the affected area, to minimize the chance of your baby inhaling a cloud of cornstarch. 

baby eating prunes
~just charlaine/getty
Use Prunes For Constipation

Starting solids is a big adjustment for babies. Most babies try their first spoonful around 4-6 months old, and gradually increase the amount they eat. By their first birthday, most babies are getting most or all of their calories and nutrition from prepared food, rather than formula or breast milk. It’s common for babies to occasionally have a tough time with bowel movements as you figure out the right balance of fiber in their diet. 

In this case, your pediatrician is more likely to offer you a natural remedy than suggest medication. My pediatrician’s mnemonic was to offer my baby “p-fruits”: plums, pears, and peaches. Research shows that these fruits, as well as kiwi and apple, combine fiber and laxative-acting acids that make it easier to go. Bananas, although they have fiber, also contain starches that can make constipation worse, so steer clear if you’re trying to soften your baby’s stool. If dietary changes don’t help, the constipation could be a sign of an underlying condition, which your pediatrician can diagnose and treat.

Before you raid your pantry for any home remedy, always talk to your pediatrician. Regular check-ups prevent the most dangerous “natural” treatment: too much time.

“The more common [mistake] I see, and it’s not common, would be neglect: wishing and hoping something will go away. That’s why you need to find a medical practitioner who you can trust,” McCreadie said. “We’re parenting in holistic ways and we honor that, but we have to honor the role the pediatrician brings to the table. They’re an advocate for your child’s health.”