Baby eczema and nutrition

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Skin rashes in babies are quite common. They can suddenly appear out of nowhere and then be gone again. As a parent, though, it can be quite disconcerting to see skin rashes on your baby.

One of the most common skin rashes in babies is eczema, or otherwise known as atopic dermatitis. According to The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), eczema occurs in around one in five infants starting in the first six months of age, but usually improves significantly between the ages of three to five years. The prevalence of atopic diseases like eczema, are on the increase but we are unsure why. According to research, primary prevention is needed to reverse this trend.

What is eczema?

Baby eczema
Baby eczema 

Eczema is a common non-contagious inflammatory skin condition that has numerous possible causes and no known cure. It’s an atopic condition, which is a form of allergy in which a hypersensitivity reaction may occur in a part of the body not in contact with the allergen.

What does eczema in babies look like?

Eczema in babies appears as a red skin rash that’s dry. It may be scaly and when scratched, can weep and become infected. Eczema often appears on the cheek first, then can spread to the forehead and the backs of arms and legs, and eventually spread to the rest of the body.

How does a baby get eczema?

There are many possible causes to why a baby might develop eczema. Some of which include:

  • Family history especially of asthma and hay fever, which can increase the chances of developing eczema.
  • Babies have hypersensitive skin therefore can more likely react to environmental allergens like dust mites, pollens, animal fur, feathers, woollen or synthetic clothing and chemicals in cleaning solutions for the house or personal use.
  • Food allergies or food sensitivities, which are triggered by eating certain foods or passed through a mothers breast milk. Whilst food is not the cause of eczema, the most common foods that can trigger an eczema flare up include cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanuts and shellfish.
  • Nutrient deficiencies for example some breast-fed babies may not be getting the required vitamins and minerals through breast milk, as their mother may not getting enough. And some formula-fed babies may not be able to utilise the vitamins and fats in baby formula.

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Can nutrition help prevent and treat eczema in a baby?

As there is no known definite cause or cure for eczema, research suggests that primarily supporting the immune system can help reduce the chance of your baby developing eczema, as well as alleviating its symptoms.  The best way to support your baby’s immune system is nutritionally. This can be done by:

  • Mothers taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding or given to the baby to take orally.  Research shows that probiotics help to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can help better digestion and absorption of food, as well as support the immune system. Beneficial bacteria can be found in foods for example yoghurt, as well as supplements. The best strain of bacteria that works more effectively than others in eczema is Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG otherwise known as LGG. Please see a healthcare practitioner trained in nutrition that can advise you on the right probiotic to take.
  • Changing your diet whilst pregnant and breastfeeding or your baby’s diet, as certain foods can trigger eczema to flare up. This may involve allergy testing or an elimination diet to see which food is the culprit. If you suspect food allergies, get tested or see a paediatrician for your baby. As well, see a nutritionist or dietician when doing an elimination diet so to limit the risk of nutrient deficiency.

In addition, other useful nutrition tips include:

  • Increasing essential fatty acids (EFA’s) in the diet either by food, which includes fatty fish for example salmon, ocean trout, mackerel and sardines, as well as nuts such as pecans, walnuts and almonds, or supplementing with fish oils and evening primrose oil. Research shows that EFA’s help to regulate inflammatory conditions in the body, as well as support skin health. Eczema is a dry skin condition therefore supplementing with EFA’s can help moisturise the skin. Again get professional advice from a nutritionist or dietician in the best foods and supplements.
  • For formula fed babies, make sure your baby is getting the right vitamins, minerals and EFA’s it needs.

The most important and effective treatment plan for eczema is to treat the root of the cause, rather than the symptom. This involves getting professional advice. Once you have worked out what causes the flare-ups in your baby, you can confidently help minimise the triggers and start your baby on the road to healthy skin.