Baby eczema! What do I do?

While baby eczema may come as a shock for both parent and child, it’s actually very common and can be easily and effectively managed.

For parents, the sight of a rash on our child’s skin can be enough to send us into a panic. 

However, more often than not, there’s no need to worry too much, it may be baby eczema, or atopic eczema, a condition that affects one in five children, and which causes their skin to become red, dry, scaly and itchy. 

The good news is that most babies grow out of it by the time they are adolescents, but some may continue to have it throughout adulthood. 

What causes eczema?

According to Dr Peter Hogan, Head of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s Department of Dermatology, babies suffering from eczema are born with very sensitive skin that can become irritated by a number different things. 

“It’s all genetic, it often runs in families,” he says. “But even if you’re born with sensitive skin, whether or not you have eczema really comes down to whether your skin is interacting with things that irritate it.” 

For most babies, it can be the clothes they wear, how they’re bathed, and how their clothes are washed. 

“If the skin is red, itchy, and inflamed, it is reacting to the wrong thing,” says Dr Hogan.
newborn being bathed

Dealing with eczema

While we cannot cure eczema, there are treatments that can help. According to Dr Hogan, 95% of treatment involves dealing with the things that are causing the reaction, while 5% is dealing with skin dryness, inflammation and the infections that can occur if the skin becomes broken. 

Managing eczema

According to your doctor or pharmacist’s instructions, while medication can treat eczema, managing the child’s environment can also be beneficial in the long term. 

You can’t change the skin your baby is born with, but, by taking some simple steps, you can help minimise flare-ups: 

Dress your child in cotton clothing and avoid polyester, elastin or wool. Dr Hogan says that he finds t-shirt cotton is best for direct contact with skin.

Choose washing powders specifically made for sensitive skin. Use only half the amount recommended by the manufacturer, and avoid overloading the machine to ensure everything is well rinsed.

When bathing your child, only bath them once a day using warm water, and avoid soaps and even soap-free cleansers. Dr Hogan has bathing suggestions for parents. “Until a baby crawls, I’d instruct parents to wash them very quickly with water without soap or cleanser,” he advises. “When they start to crawl, use soap-free cleansers to wash hands and feet.” 

It’s also important to keep your baby’s skin well moisturised every day by applying a fragrance-free emollient, a readily available cream that seals in the body’s own moisture. Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend one appropriate for your child.
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