When your baby is itchy and in pain, you’ll do anything to help her feel better. Four experts weigh in on what actually works.
Watching your baby wail in discomfort from red, irritated, eczema-flared skin can make you feel like you’re at your wits’ end, so we asked experts for tips on how to get the itchy condition under control.
1. Stick to the basics.
The emollient that’s most recommended to lock moisture into the skin of babies with eczema is plain old petroleum jelly—it’s among the least likely to trigger a reaction, and it’s also the cheapest option. But if you want to try something else, you can find a list of moisturizers that have been reviewed by the Eczema Society of Canada and found to be free of common irritants such as fragrance and sodium lauryl sulphate at eczemahelp.ca. When trying any new product, “patch test it on a small area and leave it for 24 hours to see if the child reacts to it,” suggests Amanda Cresswell-Melville, executive director of the Eczema Society of Canada. And start early. Research suggests that applying emollient daily, starting at birth, can actually reduce the risk of developing eczema by the age of six months by as much as 67 percent in babies with a strong genetic predisposition to the condition.
2. Reduce bath-time irritants.
When your infant has eczema, bubble bath and soap crayons are off limits, because they contain harsh soaps and dyes that can dry and irritate skin. But that doesn’t mean your baby can’t have any fun in the tub. Invest in some colourful bath toys or sing songs while you’re rub-a-dub-dubbing. And speaking of rubbing—don’t. Pat dry with a soft towel and leave skin a bit damp, then moisturize.
3. Stop the scratching.
Because even accidentally scratching the skin can spur itching, you should keep your baby’s nails short and smooth. If she’s is scratching at night, put cotton mittens or socks on your baby’s hands to limit damage to the skin. But this should be a short-term solution. If you find yourself using mittens frequently, it can begin to interfere with motor development, and it’s also a sign the eczema isn’t under control. “When they’re flaring, you need to be aggressive with the topical medication and use it two or three times a day until the flare calms down,” stresses Janice Heard, a Calgary paediatrician and Canadian Paediatric Society spokesperson. If you’re already using medicated cream as directed, promptly notify your doctor it isn’t doing its job.
4. Keep her cool.
Heat, and especially sweat, can irritate the skin, so if your baby does get sweaty, rinse her off (sponge baths are fine) as soon as possible, and reapply moisturizer afterward. Even in the winter, keep your baby’s room cool—it should be just warm enough that she’ll be comfy in light pyjamas or a onesie without a blanket. In the summer, dress your baby in loose, light layers to prevent perspiring. If it’s so hot and muggy that sweating is inevitable, a wet T-shirt may help keep her skin cool. To make moisturizer and medicated cream feel extra soothing, try storing them in the refrigerator or an insulated lunch bag with a cold pack.
5. Choose gentle fabrics.
Avoid scratchy lace and wool fabrics, and opt for soft, breathable fabrics, like cotton or cotton blends. if clothing seems to irritate your baby’s skin, you may also want to adjust your laundry routine. Try switching to fragrance-free detergent or soap, and cutting out fabric softener or dryer sheets. Be prepared to experiment—some kids get itchy when you don’t use fabric softener.
6. Add a protective barrier.
Slather an extra layer of petroleum jelly on your baby’s cheeks and nose before heading out for a wintery walk to prevent chapping and irritation from dry winter air. If your baby gets an eczema flare around her mouth, apply petroleum jelly or another thick barrier cream to the area before meals and snacks, advises Michele Ramien, a dermatologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. “Kids with eczema have the genetics to develop allergies, and one of the main ways they become allergic is through exposure on broken or damaged skin,” she explains. The barrier will also prevent acidic foods such as strawberries and tomato sauce from irritating the skin when they inevitably get all over your little one’s face.