Where did your baby's glowing, flawless complexion go? If you see a red, dry patch on his forehead, cheeks, forearms, legs, scalp, or neck, it's probably eczema. This skin reaction is sometimes the first sign of an allergy. Because eczema is itchy, your little guy might wake up during the night to scratch and then be extra tired during the day. But don't be alarmed. Eczema is very common -- 1 in 5 kids has it -- and it gets less severe with age.
How to Prevent It: You might love nuzzling your sweetly scented baby, but perfumed products for bath, skin, and even laundry can aggravate sensitive skin and cause eczema. So switch to fragrance-free products for a quick fix. (Avoid unscented ones, which can still contain fragrances used to mask another odor.)
How to How to Treat It: Dr. Miranowski says a simple daily bathing regimen clears up many mild cases. "Years ago, people thought that you shouldn't bathe a baby with eczema too often because it would dry out the skin," she says. "But that's not true. Water restores moisture to dry skin." So she recommends a daily "soap-and-seal" routine. After washing your child with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser (try Dove, Cetaphil, or Eucerin), pat her skin dry and apply moisturizer. Ointments (like Aquaphor) are best, and cream-based formulas (like Cetaphil) also work well. Both are better than lotion, which contains more alcohol and can be drying.
If your baby's eczema is advanced, a bleach bath -- which isn't as shocking as it sounds -- may help. Soaking for five to ten minutes two to three times weekly in a diluted bleach bath is five times more effective at treating eczema in children (ages 9 months and up) than plain water is, shows a 2009 study published in Pediatrics. "Bleach isn't harmful to the skin," Dr. Miranowski says. "It's similar to swimming in a pool, only cleaner. This bath is helpful because it reduces a type of bacteria on the skin that contributes to eczema." An oatmeal bath can also soothe itchy skin. Unlike bleach, though, it won't kill the bacteria that cause eczema.
Been there, done that, and no improvement? See a pediatric allergist for a skin or blood test to determine if your little one is reacting to a household particle (dust mites, mold, or pet dander) or a food (baby's formula or food you're eating as a nursing mom). Once you pinpoint the cause, eliminate it, which should clear up baby's skin. An allergist can also prescribe a steroid cream to stop the itch.