A guest blog from writer Halima Khatun, about her experiences of childhood eczema.
Diet and baby eczema are almost inextricably linked. Parents often say they notice flare-ups in their baby’s eczema after eating certain foods. So, as the mum of an itchy baby, I wanted to share my firsthand experience and advice.
Some important disclaimers!
Before I go on, I must share some disclaimers. I’ve stated this in my last blog post, however, it’s really, really important, so worth mentioning again.
I am by no means an eczema expert. I’m not a doctor, dermatologist, and I’m definitely not a dietitian: please bear that in mind when you’re reading the tips and advice!
I’ve sought advice from my GP, multiple mums, and consulted privately. However, different things for work for different babies, so it’s important to do your research and see what works for you and your little one.
The other thing to be aware of is that, frustratingly, there are a million variables which can cause and contribute to baby eczema. And it’s such a subtle condition that it’s almost impossible to detect the exact cause.
Therefore, my best advice would be, consult your GP, dietitian, or other health professional before embarking on any changes to your baby’s diet. If you eliminate any food groups, please do add in a nutritional substitute.
Food triggers for baby eczema
While every baby is different, there are some common food triggers for eczema. The most obvious ones are milk, egg, dairy and wheat.
Whilst weaning, we discovered that Hannah had a cow’s milk allergy. So, the first thing we did was eliminate dairy from her diet. As I was nursing and there may be a chance of me passing dairy on through my milk, I excluded dairy from my diet too. That was tough. It’s only when you stop having dairy that you realise it’s in practically everything. Even the most unsuspecting product - like crisps - would contain milk powder.
So I was miserable and hungry for months.
Anyway, we swapped regular milk for oat milk, and now we are on soya milk as it has more calories and nutritional value than oat milk. (Note: soya milk can only be introduced after the age of one.)
I’m a little on the fence still as to how effective my dairy exclusion has been for Hannah’s eczema. For weeks I saw no improvement, and it was only when she turned one that her skin really started to clear up. My dietician is also unsure as to how necessary it was for me to exclude dairy. But the advice has been that for some nursing mums exclusion helps improve baby eczema, and for others it doesn’t. Still confused? Me too.
However, if you do exclude dairy from yours and baby’s diet, there are some good vegan alternatives such as vegan cheese (Violife isn’t a bad option) and Coco Collab coconut yoghurt. The vegan cheese, which is made from coconut, is a little too sweet to taste like the real thing, however I’ve discovered a hack - nutritional yeast! Adding some sprinkles of nutritional yeast to vegan cheese adds the much-needed savoury, nutty flavour to make it taste like the real thing.
To make up for the potential lack of calcium, both Hannah and I loaded up on our leafy green veg. I also incorporated tinned sardines into our diet as they’re loaded with calcium and bone-strengthening minerals (if that sounds gross to you, check out my sardine curry recipe. I promise it’s delicious!).
Another thing I’ve been doing lately is making my own bone broths. These boiled meat fluids are nutritional powerhouses and their gelatine strengthens bones. I’ve been mainly drinking this myself and more recently I’ve got Hannah drinking it. I add in ginger, garlic and some spices to make it palatable.
Finally, I read a book called The Eczema Diet. This is mainly aimed at adults with the condition, and the dietary suggestions are pretty restrictive, but I did take a few titbits from it. Mainly that papaya is a superfood in the fight against eczema, pear is an eczema-safe fruit, and dairy and wheat are troublemakers. The book also concluded that meat broths are amazing for eczema-prone skin.
I still give Hannah wheat as she’s not allergic to it and I’m conscious of restricting her diet too much. I have tried the papaya but she’s just not interested. Thankfully she loves pears, and I’m managing to sneak broths in here and there.
Keep a food diary
If you have a baby with eczema, it may be worth keeping a food diary to see if certain foods can cause flare-ups. However, my honest advice would be to take the diary with a pinch of salt, and factor in other eczema exacerbates such as teething, hot weather and other environmental factors.
If this sounds like a lot (it is!) don’t be overwhelmed! If nothing else, bear in mind that over time, eczema management does get easier. I became fraught trying to find a solution to Hannah’s eczema, however with time it improved tremendously. As it’s such a complex condition, I could never fully say whether it was due to the dietary adjustments, use of creams (we always have Balmonds ointment in our house!), or her simply outgrowing the condition. So if you’re finding it impossible to keep on top of your baby’s eczema, just remember you’re doing your best, so be kind to yourself.
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Halima Khatun is a writer, PR consultant at HK Communications and blogger at HalimaBobs.com, where she regularly cover parenting, skincare and lifestyle. Her debut novel The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, is out now on Amazon and all major bookstores. You can follow Halima on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest.