Caring for a Newborn with Eczema: A Mother Shares her Story
Mei, the mother of daughter Marcie, interviews skin, nutrition and parenting experts worldwide as MarcieMom on her blog EczemaBlues, a comprehensive resource for eczema families. She shares with us her experience as the mother of a baby with severe eczema and offers her advice.
This is one of those moments that bring tears to my eyes – sharing about my journey as a first-time mom with a newborn baby who was diagnosed with eczema at just two weeks old. However, there is a happy ending to my story, and my baby has inspired me to help families with eczema children all over the world, through my work on EczemaBlues.com and as the co-chairperson of the national eczema support group in Singapore.
Top 3 Difficulties of Caring for a Baby with Eczema
Every first-time mom goes through the same challenges – caring for a newborn while also recovering from the delivery, lack of sleep and stress due to caring constantly for a newborn who is entirely dependent on us for the most basic of needs. However, a baby with eczema brings unique challenges, and I would sum it up in these three top difficulties that I experienced:
1. The Constant Scratching – This hardship can only be understood by parents of children with eczema. The constant itching and scratching can set in for a baby with severe eczema even before he or she develops finger motor skills! For instance, my baby was able to scratch her neck through rubbing it against the metal frame of her chair, even without the use of her fingers. Some babies will run their cheeks (a common area of eczema rash for babies) against a pillow or any fabric/object beside them. Protecting against the constant scratching and preventing against infection meant that I constantly had to be monitoring my baby, even when she was asleep, as opposed to other parents who can rest and sleep as long as their baby isn’t crying.
2. The Lack of Sleep – Constant scratching EQUALS lack of sleep. Also, the discomfort, itch and frustration felt by my baby meant that she didn't sleep well and cried a lot, so inevitably I wasn't able to sleep well either.
3. The ‘Kind’ Advice – Eczema, though common in about 20 percent of children, may not be completely understood by your family and friends. In my case, no one in my family has eczema and ‘kind’ advice really sounded like accusations that I had somehow caused my baby’s rashes. Also, advice from the internet is not always accurate. I can still remember all the nights I spent Googling for information when I should have been resting! This was what ultimately inspired me to create my blog EczemaBlues. I set out to create a comprehensive, practical resource that is light-hearted and based on interviews with skincare experts and eczema studies so that others affected by eczema could be helped.
My Top 3 Tips for Caring for A Baby with Eczema
Having gone through the process of caring for a newborn with eczema, and supporting thousands of eczema families through my blog, my support group online and offline, I would sum up my top three tips for caring for an infant with eczema below:
1. Moisturize from Birth – If your baby’s skin appears dry after birth, or if there is a family history of eczema, I would suggest moisturizing right from birth. Moisturizing has an occlusive function that protects against moisture loss from the skin barrier, which is defective for those with eczema. Moisturizing can reduce the penetration of irritant and has been shown to reduce eczema flare-ups. Moreover, it is possible (not conclusively studied) that a defective skin barrier can lead to an allergy. Moisturizing is a must for babies who already have eczema and may reduce the itch as it prevents the skin from drying out. Of course, it is no good to apply a moisturizer that will irritate your baby’s skin, so make sure you learn to read ingredients and identify those that tend to irritate sensitive skin. Go with a moisturizer that doesn’t contain these ingredients, and also LOOK at your baby – does he/she look more comfortable after moisturizer or seriously upset every time you apply?
2. Get Allergy Tested – This is something that I strongly support, despite the fact that allergy tests are not 100 percent accurate. Before I got my baby an allergy test, I was completely paranoid, thinking that every food she ate and every material that she came into contact with could have triggered her eczema. It turned out that she wasn’t allergic to anything, according to the skin prick test results at 7 months old.
The skin prick test is a simple and quick allergy test, and the results can be reviewed by the physician within the same consultation visit. Also, it is fairly accurate, and it is a much better way to know which triggers you need to worry about rather than constantly being paranoid and second-guessing yourself.
Allergy testing is usually recommended after about 6 months of age, when the results will be more accurate. If you suspect a certain trigger that is not included in the standard allergen list for testing, discuss this with your physician. It is very important to have an open discussion with the doctor, instead of having tons of reservations and questions in your head. Eczema is a chronic condition, and you will likely have to see the doctor more than once, so make sure you go to one that you trust completely.
3. Distract Your Newborn from the Itch – This is an interesting one. For an older child, I would have said don’t be steroid phobic. However, for a newborn who shouldn’t be using more than mild potency topical corticosteroids, I would suggest trying to distract your newborn. Between 2 to 9 months old can be a very tough time, a time when the baby cannot explore the world on his or her own yet can find ways to scratch and damage the skin. I personally used sign language videos, communicating with sign language to distract my baby. It also helps to have lots of ‘safe’ stuff to move, push, bite or tear.
An eczema infant is very challenging to care for, but keeping a positive attitude, taking practical steps and hanging on to your spouse or other family members for support will help tremendously!
A special thanks to Mei for sharing her story with us!