I knew nothing of eczema before I became a mum. Then my eldest daughter Hannah, now two, developed the condition at around seven months old. It disrupted her sleep, caused her distress and as a first-time mum, created no end of anxiety.
For context, Hannah (thankfully) didn’t have severe eczema. She had a stubborn patch on the back of her neck and behind her knees. This doesn’t sound like much, however, as the neck is constantly exposed, easy access meant that Hannah would scratch a lot.
As any parent with an itchy baby will know, seeing my bubba scratching incessantly was heartbreaking. So, as a mum obsessed, I did all I could to relieve her eczema. I looked for the potential triggers and eliminated them. And whether it’s one particular thing or a combination of everything, Hannah’s skin has really improved.
Before I go on, I have to mention that I’m not a doctor, dermatologist, and I’m definitely not a dietician (check out my recipes section on my blog HalimaBobs.com if you’re in doubt!). Please bear that in mind when you’re reading the tips and advice.
I sought advice from my GP, multiple mums, and consulted a private naturopath. However, different things for work different babies so it’s important to do your research and see what works for you and your little one.
Frustratingly, there are a billion variables which can cause and contribute to baby eczema. It’s such a complex and subtle condition that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact cause.
Here’s a final thing...
One thing I learned along this journey is that GPs, dermatologists, dieticians and naturopaths all have different opinions when it comes to eczema. The dermatologist believes that it’s a completely skin-based condition that can only be resolved with the use of steroid cream. The dietician attributes eczema to an immune system response. While the GP usually says it’s dry skin that just needs a thick helping of cream.
I spoke to lots of experts and decided the only way forward was to go with what felt right for me and Hannah. Consequently, it was a combination of dietary adjustments, creams and some handy tricks which helped.
Essentially, eczema is a minefield and hugely stressful for most parents. So, if you’re currently dealing with an itchy baby, I hope this post helps.
Whilst weaning, we detected that Hannah had a dairy intolerance as she’d break out in an itchy heat-rash after eating dairy. This was confirmed with a blood test.
Dairy is a common trigger for eczema flare-ups in babies. If you have an itchy baby, dairy elimination is something you might want to consider. However, as per my disclaimer, the food that triggers eczema in some babies won’t in others. For example, Hannah can tolerate wheat (another common trigger) so I include this in her diet as I don’t want to be too restrictive while she’s still growing.
I’ll talk about diet triggers and potential substitutes in more detail in a separate blog post, but the main thing is, be aware that diet can be a factor for exacerbating eczema, so it’s worth keeping a food diary to see if certain foods cause flare-ups.
Creams, lotions and potions
A mainstay of eczema management is rigorous moisturising. Yet certain creams can cause flare-ups in eczema-prone babies. Just to confuse things further, not every child has the same trigger. Some mums say one particular popular brand causes flare up for their babies, but Hannah has no issues with it. Conversely, some people praised the same cream as a miracle cure for eczema, but while it’s a nice moisturiser, it didn’t offer such transformative results for us.
The doctor’s prescription emollients didn’t help either. In fact, one proved to be a trigger: it turned out that these thick, paraffin-based emollients weren’t for Hannah.
So my personal advice is to opt for as a product as natural as you can for baby skin. I started with organic coconut oil for Hannah, which I love, though ultimately this proved a little too light. I then moved onto Balmonds Skin Salvation ointment, which is still 100% natural.
The thick beeswax-base cream is said to soothe itchy skin, and I noticed Hannah’s dry patches softened within days. Skin Salvation also helped any scars heal quicker.
When Hannah’s whole body was quite dry, I used Balmonds all over. Once her skin had softened and hydrated (it worked its magic within a few days), I then used it mainly on her problem areas.
I read about how detergents can really increase irritation in baby skin, even the non-bio versions, so I went from conventional non-bio to detergent-free eco balls.
These balls are environmentally friendly, and work by somehow lifting dirt off clothes (can you tell I’m no expert?!). The downside is that eco balls don’t do great when tackling stains, and they don’t have a fragrance.
Mums of babies with severe eczema have sworn by it, so if you have a very itch baby, it might be worth a try!
The itch-scratch cycle
All the creams in the world won’t help cure baby eczema if the itch-scratch cycle is in full swing!
Something that really saved Hannah’s skin were scratch mittens. Unlike regular baby mittens which constantly fall off, Scratchsleeves fit onto a baby like a shrug cardigan. The mitten part is cotton on the inside, and silk on the outside. The silk is designed to cool the skin on contact, so rather than making Hannah scratch more, it soothes the area of irritation. I put these mittens on Hannah at bedtime, which helps her sleep better as she doesn’t scratch herself awake.
Most importantly, the mittens minimise the damage caused by scratching, which can result in broken skin and infections, so while they don’t cure eczema, they can really help a baby get through a very itchy phase.
There are other known triggers which I haven’t personally seen worsening Hannah’s eczema, but they are worth noting:
- Central heating
- Hot weather
So my best advice for spotting eczema triggers in babies? Examine everything! Look at your baby’s diet, review their creams, consider switching your detergent and invest in a pair of scratch mittens.
Once you’re in a happy place with your baby’s skin. You can start switching things up, i.e. going back to regular detergent, reintroducing foods, to spot any culprits.
Skin Salvation with hemp, beeswax & calendula (from £7.99 for 30ml)
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