Lice in Babies
Forget the ick factor -- lice are common and don’t cause health problems. So how do you get rid of them? Here’s the scoop.
What are lice in babies?
Head lice are tiny, parasitic insects that live on the hair and scalp and feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp.
It sounds gross, but lice aren’t a health threat, and they can be easily managed at home. “Lice cause so much anxiety and stress for parents,” says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York. “The thing to remember is that lice are a nuisance and itchy and uncomfortable, but they don’t pose any danger to your child.”
What are the symptoms of lice in babies?
The most common sign of lice is an itchy scalp. You may also see symptoms of the lice infestation -- tiny, wingless insects in the hair or small, sticky masses (the eggs, also called nits) adhering to the hair. You might also notice tiny red bumps or scratch marks.
Are there any tests for lice in babies?
No tests are necessary. Lice infestations are diagnosed by examining the lice and nits on the hair.
How common are lice in babies?
Head lice are most common in preschool- and school-age kids, primarily because they’re around many more other kids. Babies and toddlers, though, can get lice.
How did my baby get lice?
Lice are extremely contagious. If your child touches another child who has lice (and let’s face it: kids are climbing all over each other all the time), he may get lice. Lice are also spread when kids share hats, combs, scarves, brushes and hair ties. Lice can live on soft surfaces, too, so your child can contract lice by lying on a couch after someone who has lice was on the couch.
What’s the best way to treat lice in babies?
“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the first line of treatment is Nix, which is an over-the-counter preparation,” Levine says. “It does have a strong smell, and it’s a chemical, but when you apply it properly, it's safe.” Two applications are typically needed: an initial one and then a follow-up one about nine days later. (The initial treatment probably won’t kill all the eggs.)
Carefully comb out your child’s hair after the treatment using a fine-toothed comb (often included with the treatment) to get rid of any dead lice and nits. “Put your energy into the comb-out, because you’ve got to get all those nits away,” Levine says.
Because lice can be spread so easily from one person to another, you may want to consider treating other family members prophylactically. So if your school-age son comes home from school with lice, it may be a good idea to treat your toddler too.
You’ll also have to remove lice (and their nits) from any household surfaces. Don’t go overboard, though. “You don't have to turn your house upside-down; you just need to be smart,” Levine says. “Wash the bedding in hot water, take stuffed animals out and vacuum the couches, the car seats and any place where the child's head has been. You don't have to scrub the floors and clean every article of clothing and make yourself crazy.”
What can I do to prevent my baby from getting lice?
Don’t let kids share hats, scarves and combs! (Easier said than done, we know.)
What do other moms do when their babies have lice?
“We had it last year, and I just about lost my mind. I have really long hair, and I was still breastfeeding the twins, so pesticide treatment was out for me too. LiceMD is pesticide-free (Walmart and Walgreens carry it). It's just an oily (for lack of a better word) shampoo to help loosen the nits. So the basic theory is that you loosen them and then comb the ba-jeezus out of the head to get rid of them all. I did it repeatedly for a few days until my scalp was raw. But we knocked it out. The twins were easy because they basically had no hair, but my two-year-old daughter was more difficult. I had to do it in installments and kept a shower cap on her the rest of the time.”
“Pesticide doesn’t always work because the lice can become immune -- and it’s icky anyway. What worked when my niece and nephew had it was mayonnaise. Put it in her hair, careful to get all the way to the root, and cover her head with a shower cap. This suffocates the lice. Then comb all of the nits out. For your house, you can vacuum, steam or iron bedding, carpets and furniture. The dryer works for pillows and stuffed animals. You can also tie them up in a garbage bag for two weeks.”
“We did the mayo treatment and nit comb. We also did a hot blow-dryer on us. It seems to be working -- we haven't seen any lice since last week. We were gone all weekend, so that's good too. It sucked. It also turns out we got it from my mother-in-law! She’s mortified.”
Are there any other resources for lice in babies?
American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org
The Bump expert: Alanna Levine, MD, pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York
See More: Baby Basics , Baby Doctor Visits , Newborn Basics , Toddler Basics
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Reminder: Medical info on The Bump is FYI only and doesn't replace a visit to a medical professional.