When my son, Ethan, turned 3 months old, he was diagnosed with eczema (or atopic dermatitis). Like any first-time mother, I was crushed as the eczema progressed and expanded over every part of his body. By his fourth month, he had severe eczema. Eczema is severe form of dry skin. Unlike traditional dry skin, eczema frequently has an underlying allergy -- in Ethan's case, a food allergy. Each doctor and specialist I saw prescribed the same thing: hydrocortisone cream. The cream would help some areas, but doctors didn't recommended using it often or over Ethan's full body because of its high potency.
I knew there had to be more I could do.
Completely frustrated, I began doing my own research. The more I read, the more I became aware of hundreds of items that could be causing such a reaction in my baby. To fight back against the eczema, I knew I needed a plan, so I set goals for myself:
* Goal 1: Relieve pain and itchy sensations for my son.
* Goal 2: Find the cause(s) of flare-ups (times when eczema becomes severe).
* Goal 3: Eliminate household irritants.
* Goal 4: Maintain Ethan's healthy skin and know how to combat flare-ups if they arise.
My battle reformed not only how I raise my baby, but it changed my own lifestyle, too. I learned so much that applied to eczema, but I have also incorporated the nutrition changes to my own diet.
Some clothing is made using several chemicals, and these chemicals have a high chance of being a trigger that worsens your baby's skin condition -- I could definitely see a difference in Ethan's skin when he wore brands that contained irritants. To help ease your baby's skin condition, consider investing in organic cotton clothing. Organic cotton clothing is produced without the use of toxins, synthetic fertilizers, harsh chemical bleaches, or dyes, and it is allergy-free, minimizing the chance of irritating skin.
What I've Learned: I had always heard that you should wash babies' clothing before they wear it and never knew why until now. Fabric finishes, which are used make clothes look fabulous in stores (resist creasing, soften, and increase the durability), are skin irritants, so washing before wearing is very important.
Buying organic clothes can be very expensive. To cut down on costs, I conducted an elimination test of various nonorganic brands. I introduced a particular nonorganic brand of clothing into Ethan's clothing rotation for four days; if no reactions appeared, it was a safe bet that all clothing from this nonorganic brand was safe for his skin.
Brands that Work for Ethan: Carter's and Baby Gap
Shoes can even be a concern. Thermoplastic, rubber-boxed toes, and the chemicals used in the shoe-tanning process can cause flare-ups around your baby's ankles. Look for genuine or eco-leather shoes that are made of chrome-free leather. This will let your baby's foot breathe easily, leading to fewer irritations.
Brand that Works for Ethan: Bobux. Their shoes are made from eco-leather and are chrome-free.
Diapers are made with plastic, which can irritate the skin and cause rashes around the rims of the diapers. Diaper irritation can happen to all babies -- even if they don't have eczema. I decided to try using cloth diapers, which helped to clear up Ethan's irritation. There are many different brands of cloth diapers with varying levels of effort required. You might have to pay a little more up front, but in the long run, cloth diapers are around the same price as regular diapers.
Brand that Works for Ethan: gDiaper
Washing Ethan's clothing takes a bit more care than a traditional wash. Because of his eczema, I use detergents that aren't harsh on the skin -- regular detergents contain chemicals that irritate his skin. I also steer clear of using fabric softener. The chemicals and scents in fabric softeners can cause itchy skin to flare up.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: Run an extra rinse cycle to make sure all soap has left the clothing. Also, using the same method for you own clothing will ensure that your clothes do not irritate your baby's skin.
Brand that Works for Ethan: Seventh Generation
Most scents labeled on a product are produced chemically. These scents can have a major effect on your baby's skin. If the scent isn't produced naturally by a product's ingredient (such as the smell of honey in Burt's Bees Naturally Nourishing Milk and Honey Body lotion), then you might want to avoid the product.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: Consider not using perfumes. Alcohol and chemical scents within perfume might irritate your baby's skin.
Household Items to Check: Dish and dishwasher soaps, general household cleaners, glass cleaners, wood cleaners, air sanitizers, bath soaps, lotions, wipes, antiperspirants, and deodorants.
The secret to dry skin is keeping it hydrated. Two types of soaps work really well for dry skin. Organic, unscented soaps have few ingredients that will remove moisture from your baby's skin. Fat-based soaps, such as those made from olive oil, clean skin without removing any natural oils from the skin.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: I use organic soaps for my son since they do not irritate eyes, but I use a fat-based soap for myself. If you don't want to buy organic, try Dove, Aveeno, or Cetaphil.
Brand that Works for Ethan: Little Twig
Not all lotions are the same when it comes to helping babies with dry skin. Lotions can help reduce itchy sensations associated with dry skin, but you will want to find a lotion that also helps moisturize and heal your baby's skin. For Ethan's severe cases, that meant going beyond lotion: Using pure oils helped to relieve discomfort and restore the skin.
What I've Learned: Skin is the largest human organ. What goes on your skin will be taken into the body. If a lotion contains ingredients you wouldn't eat, don't put it on your baby's skin.
Check the Label: Some lotions might have ingredients, such as alcohol, that actually remove moisture from the skin.
Brands that Work for Ethan: Burt's Bees (especially the Baby Bee Buttermilk Lotion) and Laid in Montana Emu Oil.
Babies with dry skin conditions need lotion daily. The best time is right after a bath, when their skin needs the extra hydration. Another good time is in the morning before putting on their clothes.
What Works for Me: To keep Ethan's skin healthy, I place lotion on him when he wakes up, after lunch, and after his bath. When his eczema was quite severe, I placed lotion on him every time he was on the changing table. For Ethan's flare-ups, I placed emu oil directly on the problem areas, which helped the skin look and feel better within a few days. Ethan seems to be less itchy within a few minutes of placing emu oil on trouble spots.
Nutrition is a huge component when it comes to elevated skin conditions and helping your baby's immune system fight back. Breast milk is the most hypoallergenic food you can offer your baby -- especially if the skin condition is caused by food allergies like Ethan's eczema.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: When I was breastfeeding Ethan, I changed my diet to provide more nutritious milk. I ate more berries and dark greens to pass useful anti-inflammatory elements on to him. I also took a teaspoon of fish oil each day to improve Ethan's skin moisture levels and decrease inflammation.
When Ethan was ready for solids I started making my own baby food. I prefer this method because I know what he is consuming and can easily detect food allergies. A whole-foods diet will provide a baby with healthy nutrients and avoid extra stress to the immune system. By controlling the cooking process of foods, I could regulate ingredients that could help or harm Ethan's skin condition.
Preparing homemade baby food and meals for your baby can tremendously improve a skin condition. Homemade baby food is fresh, tasty, nutritious, and easy to make! Here are a few tips:
1. Buy organic foods if possible. Organic foods are produced with fewer chemicals.
2. Fruits need to be cooked on stovetop until they bubble a bit and then pureed.
3. To keep the most nutrients, vegetables should be steamed and then pureed.
4. After food is pureed, you can freeze it into a cube for later use (see photo).
5. To thaw the baby food cube just warm it up in the microwave.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: Making your own baby food might seem like a lot of work, but it is actually rather simple to do. Plus, it saves a ton on grocery bills!
Even during meal, sneaky chemicals can appear in cups, plates, and utensils. Find plastics, ceramic dishware, and stainless-steel utensils that are free from BPA (bisphenol A) to keep chemicals from leeching into foods and entering your baby's body.
Brands that Work for Me: Foogo by Thermos for cups and Boon for plates and utensils.
Ironically, your baby's bath water could be negating proper hydration. We added a water purifier, which specifically removes chlorine, to the showerhead to keep Ethan fully hydrated while bathing.
What I've Learned: Chlorine is added to water during the treatment process, but chlorine removes moisture from the skin and causes it to become dry and itchy.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: Take a shower using the water purifier. Your skin will feel better and your hair will feel soft.
Any sort of chemical can trigger skin irritation. Check toys -- the paint, plastic, and dyes used could trigger an environmental allergy causing a skin condition. If toys seem to be a problem, wooden toys are natural and safe.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: If you think some of your baby's toys are causing or inflaming a skin condition, try an elimination test. Remove all toys and introduce only certain brands of toys or certain kinds of toys (for example, plastic toys with no paint).
Adding a cool mist humidifier to your baby's room will keep the air full of moisture, relieving eczema and congestion.
Do a quick walk-through your home to check for other items that are known for carrying chemicals. The most important places to check are areas that your baby comes in constant contact with, such as carpets, rugs, and bedding. Other less important items are curtains, table cloths, and wall paints. If you suspect any of these items as a culprit, conduct an elimination test. Be sure to wash bedding and fluffy toys once a week to minimize dust mites, which could stir up irritations.
Mom-to-Mom Advice: My carpets do not seem to irritate my son, but other mothers have ripped out carpeting and replaced it with hardwood flooring. Although this can be expensive, it often improves the skin condition.
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