Baby eczema is a common skin condition in infancy and there are many potential causes of baby eczema. This means that preventing baby eczema can be difficult, but not impossible! Even where full prevention isn’t likely, addressing underlying causes of the condition can lead to significant relief for children.
Ways to prevent baby eczema
Breastfeeding exclusively for at least four months may reduce the risk of baby eczema, for instance. Most health authorities recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months or more.
The reasoning behind this is that a baby’s immune system is still forming during these first few months and the intricate defensive mechanisms in the gut are not yet fully functional. Novel foods introduced during this time may trigger an immune system reaction and result in sensitivity or allergy to such foods, which can cause an eczema flare-up.
Children with a family history of atopic conditions such as eczema, asthma, and hayfever, may be more likely to experience sensitivities to some foodstuffs, including wheat, dairy, soy, and even certain fruits and vegetables.
Making any significant changes to a child’s diet (or even an adult diet) can compromise their intake of nutrients however, and parents are advised to only attempt elimination diets for baby eczema with supervision from a qualified dietitian or nutritionist. Allergy to cow’s milk is a feature of some children with eczema, and cross-reactivity with goat’s milk may also occur. Children may be fine when eating baked goods with dairy, or when consuming cultured yoghurt products, and alternatives to dairy such as rice milks, oat milks, and soy milks are available, although fortified products are usually recommended.
It is thought that around 10% of children with eczema may have symptoms connected to a food allergy, with eggs being the main allergen for most of those affected. Parents can remain alert to the possibility of baby eczema being triggered by food allergies by keeping a food-log and symptom diary for their child. The diary may then reveal a common pattern and will be helpful for parents working with their doctor or nutritionist in devising an alternative diet for eczema.
Where an infant has baby eczema and is fed cow’s milk formula a doctor may recommend switching to hydrolysed protein formula for a trial period as some babies tolerate this better than the more allergenic cow’s milk. Soy-based formulas and goat’s milk formulas are not usually recommended without specific reasons due to allergy concerns and nutrition worries.
There is little evidence regarding a connection between consumption of certain foods in pregnancy or when breastfeeding and the incidence of baby eczema. Women should not be overly concerned therefore with avoiding certain foods, unless there appears to be a reaction to such foods in their breastfeeding infant.
Eating a balanced and varied diet during pregnancy and when breastfeeding remains the priority, but those concerned should discuss the issue with their doctor, particularly if there is a family history of atopy. Those who are pregnant may, however, consider taking a probiotic supplement during pregnancy. This is because evidence suggests that healthy levels of beneficial bacteria can reduce the chances of a child developing eczema.
Eczema prevention and relief for babies
Some simple measures can also be taken to reduce the incidence of baby eczema, including keeping a baby’s nails trimmed to prevent scratching and skin infection. Care should be taken to use oil-based emollients and baby eczema creams to keep skin moisturised and prevent cracking and weeping as the skin dries out.
Skin allergens can also cause contact eczema on top of baby eczema, with certain metals, chemicals, and fabrics posible triggers. Fabrics used for baby-bedding and clothing should be made from cotton where possible, as wool and synthetic fibres can be irritating to sensitive skin. Organic cotton is also preferable to reduce the risks of exposure to harmful pesticide residues. Bedding and clothing should also be light and layered in order to prevent overheating which can exacerbate baby eczema.
Some children who suffer from eczema are thought to have their baby eczema symptoms triggered, or made worse, by exposure to dust mites. There is little evidence to confirm this but it may be worthwhile keeping the house as dust-free as possible.
Wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth and wash bedding at least once a week (at 50 degrees or more). Consider removing carpets in favour of wooden flooring as this harbours fewer dust mites.
Bedrooms should be aired once a day, where possible, and mattresses can be vacuumed weekly to reduce the number of dust mites in a child’s bedroom.
Anti-allergenic mattress covers, pillow covers, and other bedding may be helpful in controlling symptoms of baby eczema, but many doctors feel that attention is better focused on treating the skin condition as complete eradication of dust mites, and prevention of baby eczema, is extremely difficult, if not impossible.