This has been the hardest post to write since my daughter was born. Eczema is a confusing world with few answers in my opinion. But, if you're reading this, you probably already know that. I'm going to share with you all of the things we've tried to help us manage our baby's eczema. Plus the tips I wish I'd known sooner. When my daughter first developed cradle crap (a type of eczema formerly known as seborrheic dermatitis) in her first few weeks of life I shrugged it off. After all, most things I'd read said it was fairly common. Cradle cap doesn't cause discomfort. It typically takes care of itself in time. Fast forward a couple of months later to a few red patches behind her knees and in her elbow and neck creases. Again, I didn't stress, babies get rashes after all.
Shortly after she turned two months old, we ended up at the pediatrician one day because a blotchy red rash had started to cover the entire top part of her head and was spreading. The doctor diagnosed it as a viral rash and said it'd go away on it's on in a couple days. Ten days later, we were at the pediatrician again for her well visit. This is when the doctor finally said she had eczema. More than that, it was infected. Immediately I felt like the worst parent ever. My baby had eczema and I didn't know?! Plus it was infected?!
We were getting prescription creams and a home regimen to start. The months that followed have been chaotic to say the least. Something would work for a few days, then it wouldn't. As a result, we tested each of the things below to manage her eczema for at least three weeks. I wanted each potential “remedy” to have a fair chance to do it's thing. Eczema is a strange thing, where unless you experience it, I don't know if people can really understand the amount of time you obsess over it because it's always there (at least for us). It's been frustrating because other's don't see it (it's often in less visible places) so it's easy to suffer in silence because people always just say, “she looks great!” when you bring it up.
So let's start at the beginning with some eczema basics, and then I'll walk you through all of the things we've tried over the months and how they've worked in helping us manage our daughter's eczema. This post is sponsored by Hancock Regional Hospital as part of their empowering women and children site. All thoughts, experiences, and opinions are my own. This is not medical advice, but my personal experience. Every situation is unique and you should always talk with your doctor before making any decisions. Be sure to check out Hancock Regional Hospital for additional resources and support. This post contains affiliate links.
What is eczema?
Eczema is basically when the body isn't making enough fatty cells (ceramides) which causes a problem with the skin barrier; which then allows moisture out and germs in. I think this is a question that plagues a lot of parents who have babies with eczema.
Why did my baby develop eczema?
Honestly, I have no idea. The cause of eczema is really unknown. Research suggests its a mixture of genetics and environment (but isn't everything?). Families with a history of asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis are more likely to develop it; but we have no history of any of those. I think this is a question that plagues many parents of baby's with eczema.
What causes baby eczema flare ups?
It varies and can remain unknown. Common triggers for eczema flare ups include the soap or detergents being used, pollen, dust, and pet dander. About 30% of babies with severe eczema also have food allergies, so many believe their can be a link to flare ups if they are coming into contact with a food allergen (e.g. breastfeeding mom eating dairy while baby has a unknown dairy allergy). I'll share more about that later in the post though. Truthfully, every baby will have different things that trigger their eczema and it's severity will vary.
Our daughter pretty much only has had flare ups behind her knees, in her elbow creases, and in her neck folds which is why you don't ever see it in many photos. I also have never really taken a photo of a flare up; because honestly, I'd rather not think about it most days. I tried to include some where you can see if coming out of her knee folds. But again, I never really take photos during a flare up.
11 Ways To Manage Eczema Flare Ups For Your Baby
Since our daughter's eczema was infected by the time we finally got it diagnosed, our pediatrician had us put her on a steroid cream and antibiotic cream for 10 days. By the first 24 hours her skin had cleared up like nothing I'd ever seen before. For the first time ever, I got to touch the velvety smooth baby skin everyone gushed over. Even though we only put the tiniest amount onto the affected areas, every inch of her skin had cleared from it's typically bumpy state. It was a miracle and we prayed that her skin would stay like this forever.
Did the prescription creams work for our babies eczema?
Fast forward a week or two after finishing the 10 days instructions and her skin issues started to come back slowly. A month later, we were battling the bright red spots and infection again. That's when we started integrating more and more of the things I'm going to share in this list. Eventually (months later) after talking to a few doctors, we finally decided to do the prescription creams as needed when an infection was about to happen. Essentially that has meant two days a month, she gets a little bit of each cream to keep things under control.
Our pediatrician recommended we do bleach baths three times a week when she wrote us the original prescription. She had us pour bleach into about a quarter of it's cap (so a very small amount) and then pour that into our baby bath (so not a full tub). The idea here is to kill the bacteria on the skin and thereby reducing the itchiness, redness, and scaling.
Did bleach baths work for our daughter's eczema?
Bleach baths overall helped our baby's eczema, but did not get rid her eczema entirely. The baths have certainly lessened the symptoms over all. Some days it helps more than others and which is why we've gone forward with so many other at home remedies too.
Reducing the number of baths
While we wouldn't use baby wash during every bath, we did give her a bath every night at one point. Her skin was getting really dry so we decided to drop the baths to three times a week, sometimes twice a week. The reduction in baths has led to less drying out of the skin, which is ideal when trying to reduce eczema flare ups.
Pat dry & Moisturize
Our pediatrician also had us pat her dry right away after each bath (don't rub!!). Within 3 minutes of getting her out of the tub we also were told to apply moisturizer. She had us using Baby Dove Body Wash for Sensitive Skin and Baby Aquaphor. These helped initially (but she was also on the prescription creams), and then stopped after about a month. Our pediatrician had us increase the Aquaphor application to twice a day, during which time I really grew to dislike the Baby Aquaphor as everything was just covered in grease all of the time.
I decided to go back to our original body wash and moisturizer brand: Weleda. I trust their ingredients and so many other moms with babies struggling with eczema swear by their products. In switching back, I saw an improvement, and then things plateaued again.
So today what seems to work best is keeping her skin confused with which lotion/moisturizer we choose. We rotate back and forth between the two different brands of body wash and moisturizers while still following the “pat dry; moisturize within 3 minutes post-tub” rule.
Breast milk baths
After a month or two of the initial creams, bleach baths, and everything else mentioned, things were taking a turn for the worse again and I knew we needed to try something new. I'd always heard: “breastmilk is a miracle!” “If my baby ever had a rash, I'd rub breastmilk on it and it'd heal!” So I decided to make a breastmilk bath for our daughter, even though a doctor hadn't recommended it. I simply filled up her baby bath tub like usual, then poured about 5 ounces of breastmilk into it until it looked cloudy.
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Did breast milk baths work for our daughter's eczema?
While I do think breastmilk is a total miracle, it did not heal or seem to help my daughter's eczema. We tried this out for two weeks with no improvements.
Growing up, I'd get sea lice or mosquitos bites a lot and oatmeal baths always helped me. Since eczema is itchy, I decided to give it a try with my daughter. First, I purchased this oatmeal bath and it worked miracles!! Her skin felt buttery smooth afterwards, the redness was nearly gone, and it was the best result we'd seen next to the creams.
The only downside, is that it's pricey and only comes with a few uses per container. I decided to just make my own colloidal oatmeal by blending up some organic oats in my Vitamix on the “Smoothie” setting which crushed the oats down to a super fine powder. I'd add about a handful of the oatmeal to the bath water, swish it around to dissolve then put her in once it's milky.
Did oatmeal baths work for our baby's eczema?
Yes and no. The oatmeal bath mixture I purchased saw a significant improvement (it has more than just oatmeal in it though), but it still didn't cure it and there was no way I could keep up with that price point for every bath. We still use it once a month though. As far as the plain oatmeal, it definitely doesn't hurt her in anyway, but beyond giving her a little extra moisture, I don't think it helps her much either.
Olive oil baths
Seriously, at a certain point, I felt like I was preparing a stew to cook my daughter up in with all of these home remedies!! So the olive oil bath is simple: just add olive oil to the water, about a tablespoon or eyeball it. We did the olive oil bath in combination with the plain oatmeal bath.
Did olive oil bath work for our baby's eczema?
This is hard to answer, so stick with me: the olive oil and oatmeal bath was actually my favorite cost effective combo. Her skin felt SO hydrated and her flare ups were going down. I no longer felt rushed like a mad woman after bath time to get her dried and moisturized and I thought we had found our solution for managing her eczema…
…Until we started her on solids and saw an allergist who suggested we stop (more on that in a minute). Basically the allergist suggested that since eczema is an issue with the skin barrier (remember: moisture out, germs in), she felt that bathing her in any sort of “food” solution (oats, olive oil, etc.) could increase the likelihood our daughter would develop a food allergy as the body could potentially see it as a foreign substance and attack. So we stopped… but this was by far my favorite combo. I'd suggest speaking with your doctor and making your own call from there.
Going slow with solids & a probiotic
Since eczema and food allergies and gut health can all be linked, I want to include some of our tips and journey in this sector as well since it all ties together.
At our 6 month well visit and our pediatrician insisted we start solids since R's weight was dropping. I was nervous to start solids since food allergies and eczema often are linked. The doctor said to start slow, only introducing a new food every few days. Well, I went SUPER slow and only introduced a new food every week or so. She had been having some issues (more on that when I do a post solely on starting solids), but we were navigating them and put her on a probiotic.
Did a probiotic help our babies eczema?
Yes! While we didn't necessary start her on a probiotic to help with her eczema, gut health and eczema have been linked. The probiotic had been suggested to me by friends whose babies had eczema per their allergists, but I took the suggestion seriously until she started having a hard time with bowel movements after the introduction of solids. I do think it's one of the most helpful things we did in keeping her eczema well managed as she still kind of always has it, but the truly bad flaming red flare ups are down to once a month like I mentioned earlier.
The brand we use is Klaire labs. You should order directly from them and will need a doctor to do so. You can get it on Amazon, but the probiotic should stay refrigerated and the Amazon one comes unrefrigerated and with Amazon resellers and all that, I just trust getting it directly from the source here.
Anyway, back to solids.
Things were going okay. Until we gave her avocado, and her entire forearm, which had been resting in a pile of avocado, broke out in hives. I googled and learned that the protein on avocado and banana skin can be a sign that the baby has a latex allergy. I tried not to panic, after all, doctor Google didn't go to med school! But then my husband put her on a yoga mat that was lying out and her entire trunk broke out in hives too. I googled the yoga mat and it had latex in it. Which led us to seeing an allergist.
Food allergies are more common in people with eczema. Roughly 30% of children under the age of 5 with eczema also have food allergies according to the National Eczema Association. So after her avocado/yoga mat scare, we visited our pediatrician who agreed with us it was time to see an allergist, even though R was young.
It isn't really recommended babies see an allergist before a year old (and ideally later). Something like 80% of positives from a scratch test are false positives. I wanted to see an allergist anyway. My anxiety was getting pretty high about what foods to introduce to her given our other struggles with solids and this fun new hive experience. The allergist did a scratch test. R tested negative for cat dander, avocado, bananas, peanuts, wheat, oat, and some other stuff; but did test positive for raw egg white and egg yolk.
The allergist said that it's common for babies to test positive for raw egg white and yolk, but be able to handle egg in baked goods. Personally, I don't think she has any food allergies; I never have. But I wanted the epi-pen just in case, so we got a prescription for that and I feel a lot calmer navigating the food stuff since.
Since there is no skin test for latex, we've decided to hold off on doing a blood test until later. We have the epipen, and just keep her away from things we think may have latex. Based off her initial reaction to the yoga mat; and certain other things in retrospect, I'd say she has some sort of sensitivity she'll likely grow out of, not an allergy. With allergens being so variable at such a young age we are holding off on going down this road further.
Cleaning the air ducts
Cleaning the air ducts is the other suggestion our pediatrician gave us when her eczema first started. Honestly, we just haven't done it. Her eczema started when we lived in one location and certainly got worse when we moved. But we've traveled quite a bit, and her eczema has stayed the same. Truthfully, we probably should do this, as the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) suggests cleaning your ducts about every five years. However, it's expensive (like $1,000) and since we bought a house and had a baby all in the same month, this has simply been put on the back burner. My intuition tells me it wouldn't make an impact for us. With that said, I've heard mixed reviews from other parents of babies with eczema.
List Of 11 Ways To Manage Eczema Flare Ups For Your Baby
- Prescription creams
- Bleach baths
- Reducing the number of baths
- Pat dry
- Breast milk baths
- Oatmeal baths
- Olive oil baths
- A probiotic
- Cleaning the air ducts