Eczema is a term used to define a few skin conditions that cause itchy, red, and inflamed areas. When it develops in small children, the medical term for the condition is atopic dermatitis.
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2014 report, it's believed to impact a minimum of 10% of kids in the U.S. In 85% of cases, it develops before children reach the age of five, but in over half, it develops within their first year of life.
Why Parents Can Struggle With Baby Eczema
Parents often struggle with baby eczema. They worry about everything, such as:
- How their baby's skin is on a day-to-day basis
- Will their eczema flare-up after their baby eats
- Will they have it when they get older
Eczema's emotional impact is a lot to bear. It's a lot to worry about. But, that's the burden of any parent — they never stop worrying about their kids.
Five Tips to Care for a Baby with Eczema
Here are five tips you can follow to help care for your baby with eczema.
1. Tips to Obtain More Sleep
Parents of newborn babies hardly ever obtain enough sleep, but when it comes to caring for their babies with eczema, this is even more the case. While there's no specific formula for obtaining enough sleep, these strategies below could help:
- Sleep while your baby is sleeping. Put the laundry basket away, silence your phone, and forget the dishes for now. These things can wait.
- Don't share the bed with your baby. It's fine to nurse or comfort your baby in bed, but put them back in their crib when it's time to sleep.
- Ask for help. Have a family member or friend watch your baby for a little while so you can take a nap.
- Split the responsibility. If possible, switch turns with your partner so you both can alternate caring for the baby and resting.
- Try watchful waiting. In some cases, you may have to allow your baby to cry themselves to sleep. It's fine to encourage self-soothing, if you don't suspect your baby is uncomfortable or hungry. If they don't stop crying, check on them, give them some comforting words, but then leave the room. Your baby may just need to be reassured of your presence to fall asleep.
2. Prevent Your Baby From Scratching Themselves
If you allow your baby to scratch, it could make the condition worse. Plus, it could cause cuts in their skin that could become infected. Therefore, it's essential for you to learn ways to prevent your baby from scratching, such as:
- Keep nails short. Prevent scratching by keeping your baby's nails short and using socks or cotton mittens to cover their hands. These can be built into long-sleeve sleepers).
- Use moisturizers generously. Moisturize your baby's skin to help keep itchiness and flare-ups at bay. Petroleum jelly and other thick ointments contain more oil, making them very effective at locking the moisture in.
- Relieve the itch with cold compresses. Try using a cold, damp washcloth. Or, place an ice pack inside a soft towel. Relieve your baby's itching by holding the compress against their skin for several minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
3. How to Comfort Your Baby
A couple of ways to comfort your baby are:
- Select gentle fabrics. Avoid wool and scratchy fabrics. Instead, opt for breathable, soft fabrics like cotton. If your baby's clothes seem to irritate their skin, you might also want to make some adjustments to their laundry routine. Try switching to fragrance-free soap or detergent and don't use dryer sheets or fabric softener. But, pay attention, because some children become itchy when you're not using fabric softener.
- Add a protective barrier. Add an extra petroleum jelly layer on your baby's nose and cheeks before you head out for a walk during the wintertime to prevent irritation and chapping from the dry winter air. If you notice a flare-up around your baby's mouth, add some petroleum jelly to that area before they eat. Children with eczema have the genetics for developing allergies and one primary way they become allergic is because of exposure to damaged or broken skin. The petroleum jelly barrier can also help prevent acidic foods like tomato sauce and strawberries from aggravating your baby's skin when they no doubt get them all over their face.
4. Keep Your Baby Cool
Heat, and particularly sweat, can aggravate the skin, so if your baby becomes sweaty, be sure you rinse them off right away and reapply a moisturizer after. Keep your baby's room cool, even in the wintertime. They should be able to wear and be comfortable in a onesie or light pajamas without needing a blanket.
Dress them in light, loose layers in the summertime to prevent perspiring. If it's so muggy and hot that they'll likely sweat, you can help keep their skin cool with a wet T-shirt. To make medicated cream and moisturizer feel extra soothing, try putting them in the fridge or in an insulated bag with a cold pack.
5. Figure Out Your Baby's Triggers
One of the most essential things you can do for your little one’s condition is to identify things in their environment that seem to trigger their flare-ups or make their flare-ups worse. You could have products in your home that could be contributing to or causing the problem.
The most common triggers in babies are things touching their skin. It's rare that environmental allergens like pollen or mold may be a trigger. Stress and infections are triggers rare in babies. Some common triggers in babies are:
- Harsh detergents and soaps
- Excess saliva
- Non-breathable or rough clothing fabrics
The great news is that there are many effective treatments for eczema that you can inquire about with your baby's pediatrician, like antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream, to reduce their itching and make them feel better.