Eczema in babies is extremely common, with one in five children suffering from flare-ups, but when should you be concerned about your little one’s sore skin? We look at what you can manage yourself and when you need to call a doctor.
Most babies have some kind of skin issue at some point in their childhood, from the milia or milk spots of the newborn stage, to the various mysterious rashes that can cover a sensitive newborn from head to toe one day and disappear completely the next. Despite the inevitable anxiety that new parenthood brings, most of these rashes are normal, self-limiting and nothing to worry about.
However, the rule of thumb for babies under a year is if you’re concerned, call a doctor and get it checked! It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and that holds true for baby eczema as much as any other issue.
So what is baby eczema and how do you recognise it?
Although it’s not always possible to work out what’s causing an eczema flare-up, it’s generally a combination of inherited factors (ie a genetic tendency towards more fragile skin that runs in families) and environmental ones: dust, temperature, pet dander, household detergents etc.
Tiny babies have very sensitive skin, and can flare up almost immediately in reaction to a huge number of things that they’ve come into contact with; the good news is that as they get older, babies have fewer and less severe flares, and by the time they’re around five, most (though not all) children have grown out of their babyhood eczema.
Eczema in babies is characterised by:
- Itchy, dry, scaly or cracked skin
- Weepy or crusty spots, bumps or patches
- Raised patches of skin or rashes that are a different colour to the surrounding area (ie red or purple or brown)
- Patches of sore or cracked skin in folds: behind the ears, in folds of the wrists, behind the knees, in neck or elbow creases, but which can also appear on the face, trunk, scalp, arms and legs
- Clear skin in the nappy area
- As babies start to crawl, eczema can appear on knees and elbows
Given how common the condition is, most mild cases of eczema aren’t anything to worry about, and can be managed at home with a few simple strategies:
Moisturising: regular application of non-irritant, fragrance-free emollients to keep skin hydrated and protected. Find one that your baby’s skin tolerates and use it whenever you need to.
Triggers: identifying and avoiding triggers that cause your baby’s skin to react. These will be different for different babies, but likely candidates include: laundry detergent residue on bed linen and clothes; pet hair; dust mite debris; baby bubble baths or other toiletries; dusty toys; dry air; dribble; soap; perfume; smoke; wool; synthetic fabrics.
Eczema-friendly baths: you don’t need to bathe your baby every day, and prolonged contact with water can actually make your baby’s skin dry out unless you apply moisturiser immediately after getting them out. However, sometimes warm baths can be used to soothe babies who are itchy and uncomfortable. Try natural bath oils or oats in a sock for homespun remedies.
Eczema-friendly clothes: change your detergent to a sensitive version, and switch baby clothes to loose, cool, natural fibres without itchy seams if possible.
Controlled environment: keep rooms cool, airy, free from perfumes, cigarette smoke or animals.
So when should you worry about baby eczema?
If your baby’s eczema gets worse, isn’t improved by emollients or avoiding triggers, or if it gets infected, it’s time to see a doctor.
Because eczema-prone skin can get fragile and raw, especially when scratched, it’s more vulnerable to infection; skin infections can be really distressing and painful for the baby, and very hard to get rid of. If the patches of dry skin become hot, inflamed, crusty, weeping or have pus-filled spots, get a diagnosis and treatment. This is even more urgent if your baby also has a temperature.
Recommended products for babies prone to eczema:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula
Bath & Body Oil
with lavender, hemp and olive
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.