Welcome to Part 1 of “My Eczema Baby” series. You may have landed here because your baby is battling eczema, too. When you have a baby with eczema, you often think, “how do I make it go away?” But that leads to the question: Which do you tackle first: managing the symptoms or trying to determine the root cause? It can be a chicken or egg scenario.
Managing baby eczema symptoms offers temporary relief, but we noticed a significant difference only once we searched for the root cause(s). In this post, I’ll cover part of our 6+ month journey to battle our baby’s eczema and offer symptom management suggestions that worked for us so you can try them, too. In the next post, Part 2 of My Eczema Baby series, I’ll write about how we searched for the causes.
Please consult your child’s pediatrician or allergist for the best path forward for your baby. This is not meant to be medical advice and all suggestions may not be applicable for all babies.
Also, this post contains affiliate links for which I may receive a small commission at no added cost to you as an Amazon Associate. I recommend products only that we’ve tried and loved.
There’s no easy way to say it: Battling baby eczema sucks
What’s the hardest part about being a mom? I thought it would be sleep deprivation. But nothing could have prepared me for our battle with eczema.
Trying to get a grasp on a baby’s eczema, a form of atopic dermatitis (AD), is such a frustrating battle to undertake. Research has concluded that eczema (at least for babies) is often genetic, or a symptom of underlying causes such as environmental factors or dietary allergies. The challenge is, a quick search in my eczema support groups revealed medical professionals vary in their opinions about the severity of eczema, what to do about it—or even whether it’s treatable.
And it doesn’t help when uneducated people do a double-take, or steer clear thinking your little one is contagious. “What’s wrong with her face?” people ask. How do I respond to that? This tiny, wrinkly ball of a human is already being judged on her appearance. Nothing is wrong with her face. She’s battling eczema and is having a flare-up.
Identifying the cause feels insurmountable when you’re faced with weeping, scaly rashes, and an infant that’s so uncomfortable that she’s scratching herself until she’s bloody. Uneducated guidance or lack of support can make a mama feel completely helpless. We were extremely fortunate to have a supportive care team on our side who guided our journey, but not every family is so lucky to have such support. That made me angry! And that’s how this post was born.
Is baby eczema common?
Baby eczema is more common than you may think.
According to the National Eczema Association, roughly 9.6 million U.S. children under the age of 18 have eczema. One-third have a moderate to severe form.
The numbers may say baby eczema is common, but the condition can feel so isolating. Parents and caregivers surveyed by the NEA reported they often feel embarrassed about their child’s appearance, and experience feelings of frustration, helplessness, sadness, and guilt. Mama, I’m with you because I’ve experienced all the feels.
What does baby eczema look like?
I was perhaps the opposite of a concerned first-time mama who calls the pediatrician for everything when it first came to our little nugget’s skin. At first, I thought her eczema, which was limited to her face, was baby acne and that it would clear up soon. After all, I had read baby acne was normal and nothing to be concerned about. But it progressively got worse as the days went on.
I didn’t realize how bad it actually was until my mama came for a visit and gently mentioned this wasn’t typical baby acne. Enter mom guilt. I’ll always wonder if I could have done something to prevent it from getting worse. That day, I made our first purchase of products touted for eczema relief.
A few days later, I noticed the redness and patchy skin was spreading. Our little one had barely noticeable blood streaks in her poopy diaper. I immediately called the pediatrician. She suggested bringing the diaper in for a fecal occult test. It came back positive, which indicated bleeding in her digestive tract, which meant she was allergic to something I was eating. Because dairy is the most common allergy, at the recommendation of our pediatrician, we began a dairy elimination journey.
Baby eczema affects more than just skin and diet
Eczema that lasts into childhood is known to have a significant impact on the emotional and social well-being of parents and caregivers, too. How could it not when it adds a layer of difficulty to parenthood?
It’s absolutely maddening when clear skin one minute becomes red, itchy and angry only a few minutes later. My brain immediately goes to what did I eat? And what can I do to make it better?
I would bathe her to distract her from scratching. But her eczema would usually flare up worse afterward. I’d be in tears on the bathroom floor, rocking her, trying to soothe her, and trying to keep her little hands contained so she couldn’t scratch herself bloody. There was nothing I could ever do to make it better. I just had to hold her.
Thirty seconds of uninterrupted scratching would erase a week’s worth of effort to calm her skin. No mittens would stay on. So I put socks on her hands. But the socks would leave skid marks on her face because she would scratch so hard. That quite literally meant any time she got fussy, I had to stop everything I was doing to soothe her because scratching was her instant source of comfort.
When our little nugget’s eczema was at its worst, her sheets were permanently bloodstained. Her face would weep a clear fluid, on the brink of infection. She was missing patches of hair. Her skin would shed everywhere. I rotated between a handful of ever-dirty shirts because I was sick of getting Vaseline and bloodstains where she would scratch her head and face against me.
I held off posting photos I often shared with immediate family, waiting for the rare occasion when her skin was less angry so I didn’t get questions or comments. When she was at her worst, we simply didn’t have any answers and that made me feel awful. So I tried to avoid situations where someone would ask.
Baby eczema isn’t just frustrating because there is no simple answer. It’s brutally isolating, too.
Sleep deprivation from eczema is real
The worst nights meant waking up to console her every 45-minutes when she would scratch herself awake. But, thankfully most nights we managed to get two hour stretches out of her. Any time someone would ask, “How is she sleeping for you?” I had to tame the pent up frustration I secretly wanted to unload.
No, my baby was not sleeping through the night. And, no, that was not a cue to share your advice about how some rendition of the Ferber method worked for you. I know you mean well and I have no doubt it worked for you, but I listen to my baby cry enough, and self-soothing will guarantee bloodstains that will make you think a baby animal was murdered in her crib.
The truth is, mama, we’re not alone. In almost every eczema support group I belong to, sleep help is the most common topic that comes up. Sleep disturbance occurs in approximately 60% of children with AD. And parents of children with AD are four to eight times more likely to average less than six hours of sleep per night compared with caregivers of healthy children. It’s a great night when I get six hours of sleep.
Sleep deprivation was taking a toll on me and my quest to find a solution nearly made me crazy. We cleared the shelves of creams and ointments, just trying to find a solution.
And just as quickly, many ended up in the trash barely used. I know how maddening it can be to find a regimen that actually works for an eczema baby. My hope is our eczema symptom management regimen will offer you some relief.
How we treated our baby’s eczema and stopped our baby’s itching
So what can you do to help relieve some of your baby’s eczema symptoms and stop your baby’s itching? These 9 steps worked for us:
- Stop using breastmilk. Wait! I DO NOT mean stop feeding your infant breastmilk. Rather, stop using breastmilk as a solution for their skin issues. I was all about the liquid gold and using it to cure all of my baby’s ailments … until her pediatrician told me to stop putting breastmilk on her skin because I could be doing more harm than good if she had an allergy. Here I was trying to take the most natural route to cure my baby’s skin issues and it turned out she did have an allergy and I was only making it worse! You can imagine how horrible I felt.
It is perfectly safe to continue breastfeeding your infant, even if they do have allergies. It may take some adaptation to your diet, but you do not need to automatically switch to formula unless otherwise advised by your pediatrician. (And good thing because specially formulated formula can be both expensive and taste awful!) You can read all about eczema-related dairy allergies in my post here.)
- Ditch clothing that isn’t 100% cotton and avoid irritating necklines with fancy stitching. You may be surprised to learn that a lot of baby clothing is made from synthetic chemical blends that can further irritate already damaged skin. When your baby is experiencing an eczema outbreak, you want everything that touches their skin to be as gentle and non-irritating as possible.
For this reason, ditch clothing that has fancy neckline stitching and clothing made with synthetic materials. This includes polyester (and poly blends), rayon, nylon, spandex, and even the snuggly fuzzy fleece. Unfortunately, we found fancy necklines on nearly all of Carter’s girl clothes.
Instead, fill your little one’s drawers with 100% cotton clothing. If you want to go a step further, you can look for Oeko-Tex labeled clothing, which certifies clothing materials have undergone rigorous testing and is free of harmful chemicals (including dyes). The good news is Oeko-Tex certification does not equal expensive clothing! You simply have to do your due diligence and read the labels and tags. Some brands that we love that offer adorable clothes are Chick Pea (found at Marshalls) and Burt’s Bees (on Amazon).
- Ditch all fragranced soaps, perfumes, laundry detergents, and dryer sheets. This is probably the most difficult change for some families because we’ve been conditioned for so long that fragrance equals clean. Especially when it comes to our laundry, personal care, and cleaning products. After doing extensive research, one thing I learned about is that common irritants (chemicals) are found in (too) many products in our homes.
The U.S. FDA actually permits thousands of ingredients that are banned in other countries with more rigorous health testing standards. These ingredients are linked to everything from skin irritations to hormone disruptions to cancer and asthma. And yet, they’re still allowed in the products we buy on a daily basis. The onus falls on consumers to know better. How unfair!
Fragrances can be derived from chemicals known to be extremely irritating to our skin such as SLS, formaldehyde (yes, the chemical used to embalm bodies), parabens, and others. But often, these chemicals are masked on ingredient labels under the general “fragrance” term so it’s hard to know which ingredients are in which products.
Thankfully, some companies are hearing customers’ demands for change and are taking steps to be more transparent. (Kourtney Kardashian and the Environmental Working Group are among the well-known advocates trying to enact change.) But these companies are the exception and will continue to be unless new laws are enacted. So how do you know which products to choose? Opt for “free and clear” detergents that explicitly spell out which chemicals they do not use. The fewer ingredients, the better.
One resource to consult is the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance list. If you want to know how your current products rank, the Environmental Working Group offers a database that rates cleaning products and personal care products based on the ingredients disclosed. (EWG offers more information on its methodology here.)
Your house doesn’t have to be completely fragrance-free. One way to maintain a clean scent with your laundry or cleaning regimen is to swap artificially fragrant products for essential oils, which can offer both cleansing properties and naturally occurring fresh scents. For cleaning products, you can choose one that is essential oil-based, or even opt for cleaning products such as Norwex that offers intensely woven microfiber to lift away bacteria using only water (also safe to use with essential oils).
And, mama, I wish I could tell you that making the switch for your baby’s clothes and linens would be enough. But think of how often they are snuggled up in your arms, lying on your bed, or curled up in your towels. Consider just how many items in your house your baby comes into contact with items that are washed in potentially aggravating detergents.
We couldn’t figure out why Nugget would come home from daycare with splotchy patches on her cheeks when she would arrive with a relatively clear face. After talking through potential causes with her teachers, we quickly pinpointed that all of the fabric (lounge chairs, bouncer seats, swings, etc.) in the room was washed in Tide detergent, as were their own clothes. When daycare closed and she was home full-time, she had no more daily flares.
- Buy a good swaddle. One way to keep your little one from scratching and to allow their face a few solid hours per day to heal will be to tame their hands. Take advantage of a swaddle while it is safe. Swaddles such as SwaddleMe or the Ollie Swaddle are great options. If your little one is a Houdini and manages to get their arms free, try the double swaddle method we learned in the hospital from our amazing nurses. Here’s a hint:
- Keep nails trimmed and filed. This one may seem a bit obvious, but I never realized how quickly baby nails grow! Daily trimming helps keep sharp edges to a minimum. This set comes with both nail clippers and a baby-sized nail file. (But I love using this one … and she loves to chew on it.)
- Scratch sleeves. Even if you keep your baby’s nails trimmed and filed, she’ll find a way to still scratch herself. Once we had to transition out of the swaddle because our baby started rolling over, we didn’t know what we were going to do to keep her from scratching at night.
We tried using socks on her hands, but most socks are made of polyester. The ones that are made from cotton were still too rough for the constant scratching. Then I learned about this miracle product. (It was a serious lifesaver for us and once we started using it, her skin finally started to heal.)Even though she is still able to scratch now that she is in this regular sleep sack, she does minimal (if any) damage because the ends are made of satin and glide across her skin. We put them over her pajamas and under her sleep sack. Her fingers aren’t free to do damage, but there is enough room for her fingers to move that she can grab her binky and replace it in the middle of the night. This was a HUGE sleep saver for us.And might I suggest you do yourself a favor and buy an extra set to keep in the diaper bag. You’ll be thankful you have a spare set to use when you need to drive somewhere with a fussy baby.
- Satin sheets. Our babies are very resourceful when they need to find a way to tame their itches. I was sick of waking up to bloody sheets and realized that the Scratch Sleeves were only helpful until she started rubbing her face on her sheets. *sigh* They, too, were made of 100% cotton, but still too rough. So, I thought silk would be the next best thing. But paying an astronomical amount for silk sheets only for them to get bloody seemed a bit ridiculous (though, for my sanity, I would have spent the money). Before I could click “buy,” Amazon came to my rescue with a recommendation for these satin sheets. It was 1/5th the price of a silk crib sheet … so, I figured they were worth a try. I didn’t have anything to lose. Now, they’re all we use in her crib. No more bloody sheets!
- Bleach baths. As a mama who eliminated all hazardous cleaning products from our house, I quite frankly recoiled when I heard about the concept of bleach baths. How in the world could bathing a baby in bleach be a good idea? But they were recommended by our pediatric allergist and pediatrician as a way to prevent bacterial infection when her skin was weepy, so I was willing to entertain the idea after I got over my shock.
In reality, the bleach is so diluted in water that it’s as though your baby is swimming in a chlorinated pool. The objective is to prevent skin infections, which will require antibiotics. Put into perspective by our allergist, bleach baths are better than constantly resulting to antibiotics. Here are the instructions our pediatrician provided for a bleach bath. I recommend confirming with your pediatrician that this approach is right for your baby before trying. The one down side to bleach baths is they can dry out your baby’s skin. So it’s important to avoid bathing too frequently and have a consistent post-bath routine that will re-hydrate your little one’s skin.
- Post-bath routine. I’ll always wonder if my goal to use natural products contributed to exacerbating our baby’s eczema. I’ll never know, but my hope is that you can learn from what may have been my mistakes. Moisturizing your little one’s skin after bath from birth is critical, especially when he or she develops eczema. It seems counter-intuitive, but baths can suck the moisture out of your little one’s delicate skin.
But what product you moisturize with also matters. When you have a baby with eczema, traditional advice goes out the window. Avoid lavender scented baby lotions (and any product with a fragrance). Instead, opt for allergist-recommended, skin-healing, moisturizing products such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, Vanicream, or Eucerin Baby Eczema Cream. (Aquaphor is commonly recommended but it did not work for us. Also, if your baby has a soy allergy, avoid this product because the glycerin in Aquaphor is derived from soy.) We found CeraVe to be the best baby eczema cream we tried.
The type of product you choose matters, too. We learned that ointments are better than creams, but creams are absolutely better than lotions. (I didn’t even know there was a difference between creams and lotions. I simply thought it was a marketing ploy of different labeling.) But I learned to avoid lotions because they have extra alcohol-based thinning ingredients that can dry out your baby’s skin. Opt for ointments or creams which are thicker and, although more annoying to handle, better for eczema babies.
Our post-bath routine is this: Within three minutes of removing our little one from her luke-warm bath, we pat her dry. (Don’t rub off excess water. Instead, use it to your advantage to help hydrate.) We lather her up with our cream of choice and then apply Vaseline over top of the cream to lock in the moisture.
Lather with Vaseline … really? Yes, mama. Studies have proven this is an effective method, it was recommended by both our pediatrician and allergist, and, it worked for us, so I’m sharing the love. It’s messy. It’s sticky. You will get Vaseline all over your shirt so wear clothes you don’t care about getting stained. But it works.
Pro Tip: Since many babies will flare up after a bath when histamine levels are at the highest, during moisturizing is a great time to put on the Scratch Sleeves. I start by moisturizing one arm, put on her PJ arm and the first Scratch Sleeve, then do the other arm and repeat. This way, I can moisturize the rest of her body without her scratching.
Trust your gut and keep trying
Finding a baby eczema treatment that works for you and your baby can be a matter of trial and error. Every baby is different and eczema is unique. I hope the suggestions I offered above offer you and your baby some relief.
I’d love to hear in the comments section below (or find me on Instagram) what products you have tried, and what worked for you and your baby. Because eczema care is such a trial and error process, I know other mamas reading this article would value that information, too.
Eczema is a very stressful journey no mama should have to go through alone. If you are interested in joining the Facebook support group I belong to, please let me know and I will add you.
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Good luck, mama!