Baby milk spots: everything you need to know

Baby with milk spots

by Emily Thorpe |

When you are pregnant you have to deal with all sorts of changes in your skin from rashes and spots, or you might even be one of the lucky ones who finds themselves with glowing pregnancy skin (we envy you!).

But skin concerns don't stop after you give birth. Once you have a newborn, every little lump, rash or mark on their delicate skin is likely to set you off into a world of panic.

Baby milk spots, otherwise known as milia, are fairly common in babies, affecting around half of all newborns - but what exactly are they?

We spoke to Dr Yiannis Ioannou, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK to find out everything you need to know about baby milk spots.

Read more: Skin advice and help for mums

What are baby milk spots?

Milk spots are very small white spots or lumps that occur on the face, mainly around the eyes, nose, cheeks, and forehead (so basically everywhere on their poor little face!).

"Baby milk spots 'Milia' are tiny cysts that some babies will develop over time, and others are born with. They are a common skin issue that a lot of babies will experience, these tiny milk spots are benign and not a cause for concern for parents." Says Dr Yiannis.

They are actually tiny little sacs filled with keratin, which is a protein that is typically found in skin tissue, hair and nail cells.

How common are newborn baby milk spots?

Milk spots can occur in both adults and children but they have different causes and they are particularly common in newborns, with around 40 per cent of babies developing them.

What do milk spots look like on babies?

Milk spots are tiny white spots, typically less than a millimetre in size. Your youngster may have only a few or they could have lots clustered together.

What causes milk spots?

Contrary to what the name suggests and popular belief, milk spots have nothing to do with milk, bottle feeding or breastfeeding.

The cause of milk spots in newborns is unclear but babies are usually born with them.

According to Dr Yiannis, "Milk spots occur due to blocked pores, not as a result of breastfeeding which is a common misconception. They are small cysts that usually have keratin in, a protein that is found in our skin."

Some dermatologists believe they occur due to the hormones released by the mother during pregnancy or down to the baby's skin glands not being fully developed.

In adults, milk spots are usually down to dead skin build-up, damage to the skin via the sun, the use of steroid creams or burns.

Should I be worried about baby milk spots?

Milk spots are harmless. It is unlikely that the milk spots cause your little one to lose any sleep (no more than normal anyway!) because they are not usually painful or itchy.

If you find they are causing them discomfort, they may be something else so you can always get your GP or health visitor to check.

"Milk spots are nothing to be worried about, they will clear up on their own in a matter of weeks, if not months. A lot of babies will either be born with milk spots or develop them and they do not cause pain or discomfort." Says Dr Yiannis.

How long do milk spots last on babies?

"Milk spots will resolve themselves within a few weeks or months as your baby grows” says Dr Yiannis.

“But if you’re unsure whether these are milk spots and they have been there for longer than a few weeks or months, then it would be best to consult your paediatrician for reassurance."

How do you treat baby milk spots?

“You can continue to wash your baby's face with water, followed by a gentle moisturiser. Although milk spots might look like little whiteheads, make sure you are not tempted to squeeze or pop them," says Dr Yiannis.

The keratin cannot be released through the pore so this will only break their delicate skin, leaving it sore and prone to infection.

Keep their skin clean with water and any mild baby washes. The milk spots will clear up on their own in a few weeks.

Are newborn baby milk spots the same as baby acne?

Milk spots are often inaccurately referred to as baby acne. However, there is a subtle difference between the two.

Dr Yiannis says, "Baby milk spots have the appearance of tiny bumps with no head. However, baby acne is different as these are usually in the form of red angry looking spots, or a spot which has a head to it. Acne also tends to develop after a baby is born, whereas babies can be born with milk spots. These spots can become infected, but are easily treated with the right creams or ointments and if you are concerned you should consult a paediatrician who can help advise you on the best course of action."

Luckily, like milk spots, acne tends to clear up on its own after a few weeks or months.

Avoid squeezing them, over washing and make sure to use mild baby products. If the acne is severe, contact a dermatologist.

More common baby skin complaints

1) Nappy rash

Perhaps the most common skin concern with little ones which occurs when their skin is irritated by rubbing from nappies, wee, poo or cleaning products/wipes. Their skin will be red, sore and blotchy.

Changing nappies as soon as they are dirty, applying a barrier cream or changing nappy brain if a particular type sets it off are all ways to prevent nappy rash. It will usually clear up after a few days.

Read more:The best nappy rash creams to soothe sore bottoms

2) Meningitis Rash

This is a more serious rash. The main identifying factors of meningitis rash are a purple pin-prick rash that doesn’t dissapear or fade when you press a glass against it.

Not all babies who have meningitis have the obvious rash.

Keep an eye on your babies temperature if they develop a fever as this is a clear indicator as well as clammy skin, sleepiness, refusal to feed, vomiting, neck stiffness or dislike of bright lights.

If you are worried call 111 or take your child directly to hospital.

3) Baby Acne

Milk spots and baby acne are often confused. However, unlike milk spots, baby acne will usually result in angry looking red spots that are often filled with pus.

It looks similar to adult acne and in newborns it will clear up after a few weeks or months.

Always avoid squeezing the spots as this can make your baby more prone to infection.

Wash your baby with water and use mild products, if at all.

4) Thrush

Thrush is quite obvious in children as it results in a white coating on your baby's tongue or white spots that cannot be rubbed off.

Babies are often affected by oral thrush and although it is harmless, you and your little need to use treatment to clear it up as it will be transferred by breastfeeding.

If left untreated, breastfeeding can become painful for mums.

5) Chickenpox

Chickenpox is commong and mainly affects children but it is possible to catch it at any age. After about a week it tends to get better without needing to see a doctor.

Chickenpox are red spots that can appear all over the body and the spots can fill with fluid or blister and burst.

There are other symptoms such as a high temperature, aches, feeling unwell and loss of appetite.

The spots are very itchy and can really irritate children but it is worse in adults which is why people often throw chickenpox parties to prevent their children getting it in later life.

6) Cradle cap

Cradle cap occurs on your baby's scalp and results in flaky or scaly skin that looks crusty.

Some experts believe cradle cap occurs because of the over-production of oil on the scalp.

It tends to last for a few weeks and then drops off naturally. It is important to make sure you avoid picking it off as this will make the skin sore and painful.

7) Eczema

Atopic eczema is common in children and causes the skin to become itchy, inflamed, red and cracked.

It often occurs in areas where the skin folds such as the neck, elbows, behind the knees and around the eyes and ears.

Eczema is a long-term condition but often clears up in children at around 11.

There are certain creams that can be prescribed by your doctor to help soothe the symptoms.

Read more: The best eczema creams for babies (that you can use too!))

8) Dry skin

If your baby’s skin looks a little grey and feels dry, she could need a moisturiser.

"A doctor will be able to prescribe something that’s right for your baby," says independent health visitor Daphne Hardwick.

Some creams, including natural products, can irritate baby skin, while traditional alternatives don’t always work.

"It’s often beneficial to use a moisturising, non-scented bath additive, such as Oilatum Junior Bath Formula – and you can do this right from day one," says Anna.

9) Sunburn

Baby skin is more prone to burning than adults’, so keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible.

"Sun protection is very important," says Anna.

"Studies have shown that if you are exposed to too much sun when you’re a baby, you’re at higher risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers as an adult."

If your baby develops tiny red spots or blotches on her face or body, it’s probably heat rash, which will disappear as soon as she cools down.

10) Viral rashes

There is no hard and fast rule about viral rashes, so it’s best to see a doctor if you’re worried.

"After a virus, a child will sometimes develop a harmless red rash," says Leon. "This will get better without treatment, but don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you’re concerned."

If a rash doesn’t blanch when pressed with a glass, it could be meningitis – so you’ll need to call 999.

Occasionally a rash can be a sign of illness such as slapped cheek syndrome.

Both conditions are minor and usually clear up on their own, but you’ll need a doctor to make the diagnosis.

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