There’s more information about baby eczema available on the web than anyone can hope to read in a lifetime so we have distilled our experience into 8 simple steps that will get you through the first few months of your baby’s eczema.
- Don’t panic: Watching an angry, red rash creep over your baby’s cheeks and forehead is horrible. But you’re not alone, eczema is very common. Over 20% of children suffer from it at some point in their lives. Eczema typically appears when babies are 3-4 months and the vast majority of children grow out of the worst of it before they are 2 years old.
- Ditch the detergents – the skin is protected by natural oils and an acid mantle but soaps and toiletries are degreasing and alkaline. Even ‘gentle’ baby toiletries strip away the protective oils in your baby’s skin and neutralise the acid mantle. Don’t use soap and shampoo in your baby’s bath and avoid baby wipes. Plain water is usually plenty. If you need more you can use emollient (medical moisturizers) to wash the skin. For laundry, half the amount of detergent you use (you won’t notice the difference, I promise), add in an extra rinse cycle and avoid detergents and stain removers containing optical brighteners and fragrance. You may be interested to check out these pieces on laundry: Eczema Friendly Laundry: Detergents (and their ingredients); Eczema Friendly Laundry: Stain Removers; Avoiding Baby Eczema Trigger: #1 Laundry
- Keep your baby’s skin as intact as possible. Eczema is incredibly itchy and can even itch before any rash appears. Itching inevitably leads to scratching which in turn leads to scabs and infections which make the itch even worse. Keep your baby’s fingernails short and smooth and use scratch mitts when your baby is at their most scratchy. Read All About the Eczema Itch here.
- Get an appointment with your GP – emollients are the key component of any eczema treatment and are available free of charge on prescription. Your GP will be able to give you advice on which emollients are likely to work best for your baby and how to use them effectively. If your baby’s eczema is particularly troublesome and affecting their sleep, your GP may also prescribe topical steroids to bring the flare-up back under control. Steroid creams are safe, so long as you use them in accordance with your GP’s instructions but should only be used to control flare-ups, not for long term eczema management. If you have any concerns about steroid use check out our post written by Dr Sam Hunt, Consultant Dermatologist here.
- Talk to your family. Eczema and eczema triggers often run in families but as it usually clears up quickly, you may have no idea that you or a sibling were similarly afflicted. I didn’t realise that I had eczema as a baby (as well as when I was a teenager) until my son’s eczema appeared and my mum was suddenly a font of useful information.
- Make sure that cows’ milk protein allergy (CPMA) isn’t a problem. CMPA affects around 7% of babies, largely those who are bottle fed. Most grow out of it by the time they start school. Symptoms can appear immediately after eating or may take hours or days to develop and include stomach problems (reflux, colic, diarrhoea or constipation), skin reactions (redness or swelling around the eyes and mouth), hay-fever like symptoms (runny nose and wheezing) and eczema that doesn’t respond to treatment. If your baby is diagnosed with CPMA, your GP will be able to prescribe special formula milk. Do not give your child any other type of milk without first getting medical advice.
- Be patient. There is no miracle cure for eczema and every case of eczema is unique. It may take time to find emollients that work for your baby and it will take time for skin to heal and the acid mantle to be replenished.
- Beware of snake oil sales(wo)men. As with male pattern baldness and belly fat cures, the internet is awash with miracle ‘cures’ for eczema. The NHS website, patient.co.uk, the National Eczema Society, Eczema Outreach Support and Nottingham Eczema Support are great sources of reliable information and there are lots of great local support groups that they can put you in touch with. Be wary of groups that aren’t supportive of a range of approaches to eczema management and look for independent reviews of products.