Breastfeeding and Eczema

A skin condition that is manifested by red, itchy, scaly or bumpy patches, eczema is something that is commonly observed among babies. We already know the fact that breastfeeding can help prevent or relieve many childhood diseases. But is eczema one of them?

So what have experts found about breastfeeding and eczema?

Experts’ opinions are divided when it comes to the relationship of breastfeeding to the prevention and relief of eczema in young children. However, a recent study showed that babies who are exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months have a lower tendency to experience eczema by the time they reached 6 years of age. According to Katherine Balas, lead author of the study, results show that breastfeeding does not prevent the occurrence of eczema on children, but exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 months of life may help minimize extended eczema flare-ups.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months for babies who are at a greater risk of atopic dermatitis, a certain type of eczema. 

Anyone can develop eczema at any point in their life, but some babies are at a greater risk of developing this condition. Do you think that your breastfed baby has eczema? Or is it you who are experiencing eczema symptoms? Here is some additional information about eczema while breastfeeding your baby. 

A Brief Introduction to Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition caused by an allergic response of the body. It causes redness and itchiness in certain parts of the body. They may be rough, elevated, cracked or even produce blisters. Eczema is often associated with people who have a family history of food allergies or allergic conditions like asthma.

The term atopic dermatitis is often used interchangeably with eczema, but it is just one of the many types and degrees of eczema that can be acquired by individuals. 

Atopic dermatitis is common among babies, but other types of eczema can also affect young children and adults. It affects around 32 percent of individuals in the United States. The location and severity of skin rashes differ among children and adults.

For babies and children under 2 years old, it is common to spot the symptoms in the cheeks and scalp. The rashes are often fluid-filled and very itchy. You’ll notice that your baby continuously rubs the area and gets irritated. Eczema in babies can also interfere with their sleep.

For older children, the skin rash is often located on the creases at the back of the knees and elbows. It may also appear on the neck, ankles, wrists, and in between the buttocks and legs. The skin rash may look bumpy, elevated, and the color can lighten or darken.

For adults, the eczema rash is usually observed at the nape and the creases of their elbow and knees. However, it can spread all over their body. The rashes are very dry, scaly and produce a permanent itch.

What foods should I avoid when breastfeeding a baby with eczema?

Just like any other allergic conditions, eczema can also be triggered by certain foods. If your baby is breastfeeding, be mindful of the food you eat as it may be transferred through your breast milk. This is especially beneficial if you have a high-risk baby (those who have a history of eczema, asthma or food allergies in the family).

The AAP recommends eliminating or avoiding the following foods if you’re a breastfeeding mother of a high-risk baby:

1. Eggs

2. Cow’s milk

3. Fish

4. Peanuts

5. Tree Nuts

In addition, there has been a practice of delaying the introduction of complementary foods to help prevent eczema. However, experts suggest that there is minimal evidence that delaying complementary foods beyond 4 to 6 months of age protects against allergies. 

Should I stop breastfeeding when I have eczema?

For adults with eczema, the rashes may cover any area of their body. In some rare cases, it can also extend in your breasts and nipples. If this happens, make sure you consult a doctor to confirm if it’s eczema. Eczema is an allergic condition and it is not contagious. With appropriate management, you can continuously breastfeed your baby.

Home Care Tips for Eczema

If you or your baby has eczema, it is best to seek advice first from a pediatrician or a dermatologist for the appropriate evaluation and management of your symptoms. It is important to note that eczema can’t be cured. The treatment is usually focused on alleviating its symptoms, preventing flare-ups, and avoiding skin infections.

Additionally, you can benefit from the following home care tips in alleviating the symptoms of eczema or preventing future flare-ups:

1. Use mild soaps or non-soap cleansers

If your baby has eczema, his pediatrician will usually recommend mild cleansers to avoid further skin irritation. It is best to continue using this cleanser even after the symptoms disappear because eczema often recurs when the skin is irritated.

If it’s you who has eczema, it is also beneficial to ask your dermatologist about a mild variety of soap that you can use every day. Ordinary soaps or beauty soaps might make your skin dry and they may contain harsh chemicals that can further trigger a flare-up.

2. Wear soft and comfortable clothing

Clothes that are made from cotton with breathable material is recommended for babies or adults with eczema. Tight-fitting and roughly textured or synthetic clothes can irritate your skin. You may also need to avoid clothes with fibers that will make your skin itchy. Wool and polyester can often trigger an eczema flare-up so it is best to avoid wearing clothes that are made from these materials.

3. Apply moisturizers

After bathing, it is usually recommended to apply moisturizers to help hydrate the skin and prevent dryness. Eczema can make your skin very dry and scaly, so moisturizers can help prevent you from developing broken skin. Some experts say that applying it within three minutes after bathing helps seal the moisture within the skin.

Ask your doctor about a mild moisturizer that can soothe your baby’s sensitive skin. Most doctors recommend moisturizers or gels containing aloe vera that can naturally hydrate the skin and relieve irritation. For adults, calendula cream or other moisturizing creams and lotions may also be prescribed.

If you’re going for a swim, apply moisturizer all over your body before submerging into the chlorinated pool. Afterward, rinse your body in cool water and reapply the moisturizer to prevent skin dryness. In some cases bathing in salt water may help improve eczema. 

4. Pat your towel instead of rubbing.

The friction caused by rubbing may irritate the areas with eczema. Gently pat your or your baby’s body using a soft and clean towel after bathing.

5. Warm and short baths.

Use lukewarm (not hot) water when you bathe your baby. Bathe her once a day and make it quick. You may also apply a moisturizer on the skin rash before bathing to prevent the skin from getting dry.

6. Cut your fingernails short.

Eczema is very itchy, so you or your baby may unintentionally scratch your skin and this will make it prone to infection. Make sure to regularly cut your fingernails. Your baby may also benefit from wearing cotton mittens to prevent scratching or rubbing her skin rash.

7. Keep it cool.

Eczema worsens when you overheat your body. If your baby has eczema, make sure that his room temperature is cool. Avoid activities that can cause excessive sweating. 

8. Minimize stress.

To many people, eczema can recur or even worsen in times of stress. Offering plenty of quality time and attention to your little one may help eliminate stress. Adults can benefit from various stress-relief methods like yoga and breathing exercises.

Overall, breastfeeding can help with eczema, especially if your baby has a higher risk of developing this condition. Mothers who have eczema can continuously breastfeed their babies, along with receiving symptomatic care from their health care provider. 

References:

https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(18)32119-5/fulltext
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3237513/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659557/

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