Our Story of Baby Eczema

I had no idea how distressing eczema could be until it happened to my baby boy.  This is the story of J’s eczema so far, and how we got his skin back to normal.

Just baby eczema?
As a newborn J had oily skin and baby acne, so I wasn’t concerned when his skin started to dry up at around 10 weeks old, I simply massaged him gently with olive oil.  One morning I found his tummy covered in red spots.  He was otherwise fine and as the skin was so dry I thought it was probably eczema.  The GP agreed it was eczema and we left with our first of many prescriptions. I remember asking our doctor what he could be reacting to.  He checked that J was still completely breast-fed and said it was just something that happened around this age and that his skin just needed moisturising.

I collected the prescription for an emollient and bath oil called Diprobase and to be honest, took an instant dislike.  They were mineral based with an unpleasant, overpowering chemical smell to them.  J had only ever been bathed in water with simple olive oil used to massage his skin and scalp.  I myself have never got on well with mineral oil products as I find they dry my skin, so I wasn’t happy covering my baby in this chemical smelling gloop.  I carefully tried it on a small area of his tummy but it didn’t help his eczema at all so I contacted the GP to ask if there was a more natural alternative.

Our second prescription was for Aveeno cream and bath oil.  This cream seemed less drying, but still he scratched and clawed at his little tummy when I applied it.  I’d slather it on fast and quickly pull his vest down, but if anything his skin was getting worse, the spots were getting smaller and closer together. 

By now, bath time was getting quite stressful, it seemed like he was reacting to the water.  He’d sit in the bath and grab at his skin and after a couple of minutes his whole body would be red and on fire.  I only gave him a couple more baths then stopped bathing him altogether.  I’m a vet nurse and my instincts told me that if water was doing that to him, keep him out of it.  The idea of putting him through that daily seemed cruel so instead I bathed his hands, bum and armpits regularly with a little bit of damp cotton wool.

I have sensitive skin myself, and to me my poor boy’s little body looked like it was having a horrible reaction to something.  As his skin got redder we began to notice that there seemed a definite cut-off line for the eczema – at his waist.  Beneath his disposable nappy his skin seemed fine, not dry or spotty, but healthy and clear.   

The eczema worsened
Having been using Fairy non-bio washing laundry products for a year or so, I switched back to Ecover and stopped using fabric softener altogether.  Still J’s skin got worse.  His little head was starting to suffer too, getting redder and redder and his cradle cap was getting unmanageable.  Baby Eczema Scalp

Around this time he began to rub his head as he was falling asleep, and one night rubbed a patch so much it started weeping.  We set off back to the doctors and when I explained I believed our problem to be laundry related, she said that as long as we were using non-bio it was very unlikely to be that.  I was horrified when she mentioned oral steroids as a course of action if it continued.  We left with another prescription, for different emollient and bath oil and also a weak steroid cream for the sore patch on his head.

I got the prescription and applied the steroid to J’s poor head to clear up the weeping area.  The other stuff I chucked into the back of the cupboard.  I was still sure all this had to be related to contact with washed fabrics.  I put some scratch mitts we had over his hands to try and stop him traumatizing any more skin, but he still rubbed and rubbed.

Until the itching began he’d always been an easy baby.  Contented and smiley he’d settled to sleep on his own within a few minutes of laying him down.  It was a different story now.  His little hands would go up to his head and he’d rub then rub some more and then more.  The more he rubbed the itchier it got, so the more he rubbed.  He couldn’t get to sleep at all swaddled he’d thrash his head from side to side or twist to rub his head and face on the sheets.  I’d feed him to sleep and lay him down, but as soon as he entered light sleep 45mins later the rubbing would start again.  He’d rub in his sleep till it got so sore he’d wake up with a scream.  It was heartbreaking. 

Sleep deprivation and still it gets worse
I started to sleep with him so I could cuddle him and hold his arms down to stop him scratching.  I was going to bed at 8 every night and waking every 45mins all night to hold my itchy baby’s arms by his side so he didn’t wake himself back up.  We were both exhausted.  Daytimes were becoming impossible - my busy 2year old girl needed caring for, but J just couldn’t sleep.

I called my health visitor desperate for someone to tell me what to do and how to help him.  She was very sympathetic, told me to apply lots of cream and mittens then just leave him to sleep.  I did as suggested, and oh my.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad about anything.

My poor baby, his eyes and face were on fire where he’d rubbed from tiredness then from itchiness, and his little head was a mass of weeping lumps from where he’d rubbed and rubbed it on the sheets.  His face and eyes had been clear before this and now the baby eczema was there too.  I was now convinced that somehow the fabric gloves that had spread it to his face. 

It was about this time his tummy had a spell of looking ok.  He’d had a vest on for 3 days and the skin there had started to settle. Then when I tried to change it to a clean vest, his rash would come back with in a couple of hours, even brand new vests had the spots popping up fast.

Another trip two trips to the doctor’s later and all I had was more steroid cream.  I tried explaining to the GP about the vest and the gloves and how I was sure it was his clothes but he told me it couldn’t be dry contact with his clothing.  Worse still, he made me feel stupid for suggesting it.  I felt like I was going mad.  I was physically and mentally exhausted, I was sleeping on and off in 45min spells through the night whilst pinning down my struggling son. 

Taking control and ‘the smelly vest’
All I could think about was how to stop my baby boy being so itchy, I was obsessing about this one vest we named ‘the smelly vest’ and the doctor’s comments had me constantly second guessing myself.

Tired and losing hope I took matters into my own hands, desperate to try and get to the root of my little boy’s itching.  He was 3 and a half months old, fully breast fed and had only ever been bathed in water and massaged in olive oil before this happened.  It had to be something.  I had to find a reason.

I started a diary for J, writing down all things he was in contact with, what I had eaten or drunk and what reactions we had.  I cut all dairy products from my diet and started dusting and cleaning the house as much as possible.
I spent every moment I had searching the internet for information that might help.

After a few more days in ‘the smelly vest’ the skin on his tummy was normal, not dry not red, just normal pale soft baby skin.  I guessed that the build up of his creams in the vest must be stopping his skin reacting to it, so I started to apply layers of emollient cream to the inside of another vest, drying it between coats on the radiator.   

His poor face settled over a few days with the help of mild steroid round his eyes.  I discovered Sudocrem worked wonders for him. It seemed to protect and moisturise.  Keeping his face away from any fabric helped as well.  His head was another story it was a red, smelly, weeping, sore mess.  I noticed when we held him the side of his face that touched us would always be bright red for hours or more after we put him down, the same with the side he slept on.  It was horrible feeling we couldn’t cuddle or comfort him without making him sore.Baby Eczema Clothing

Thankfully the second “creamy” vest I’d made was fine too, so I alternated these 2 smelly vests on him, washing them only in water and then “creaming” them up again.

The detergent connection and parent power
I’d started to search everything I could with relation to laundry and baby eczema when I found a link to the most fantastic website.  It was written by a mother who had found a solution to her own son’s severe eczema.  I must have read the site about 5 times.  Everything made sense.  She told of how she discovered that her baby was reacting to detergents, not just in washing powder, but in shampoo, washing up liquid, almost all bathroom toiletries and even food.

On her site she explained the different types of eczema how it often presents on the body, and she had instructions for ridding your home of detergents by using true soap products.  She explained how she believes a large proportion of childhood eczema is caused by or worsened by detergents in the home.  It was easily the most helpful and in-depth source of information I found and I’d strongly suggest anyone with a child suffering from eczema reads it. Sloveeczema    

A campaign of detergent elimination
I ordered dry-pack soapflakes for laundry, some bits and bobs to bring my vacuum up to British allergy standards and got us all new bathroom products from the health food shop.

I wasn’t sure what to use for the washing test she describes and so I didn’t try it as such. On mornings when J had woken with his face red raw from contact with his bedding or my clothing I washed it in a  mild ‘true’ soap.  It was more out of desperation than anything else as I was literally struggling with him to stop him tearing at his face with his nails.  After washing him he’d be instantly less frantic, and after an hour or so of washing him the redness and itching would settle.

So what to do about the sheets he lay on to sleep? I had an idea.  I remembered the absorbent pads they sit you on in hospital after giving birth.  A hunt of the local chemists turned up ‘Pampers Bed Mats’.   A pack of large disposable absorbent sheets, they worked perfectly!  I wrapped one around his mosses basket mattress, put another in his bouncy chair and kept a third on our bed for where he laid with me.  That night he slept normally.

The old fashioned soap flakes arrived and my washing machine didn’t stop as I set about trying to remove detergent residues from all our fabrics.  It took 5 or 6 washes to stop him reacting to our clothing.  He still reacted to his usual clothes and previous bedding, so I just kept up with the disposable bed sheets and started to look into getting him some new clothes. 

I ordered a couple of organic baby vests from the company ‘Frugi’.  I’d had some things off there for my daughter so I knew how lovely and soft their products were.  The vests worked fine, no spots!  No itches!  And as they had long sleeves his arms started to heal too.  Happy I’d found ‘safe’ clothing I ordered him some sleep suits and a pair of trousers from the company too.  Within days his legs were healing.  Contacting the Frugi company they confirmed no chemicals or detergents were used at all during any process of the clothing manufacture.

I was reluctant to wash his new ‘safe’ clothes so when I did, it was just in warm water, but it wasn’t quite cutting it with the sick smells.  I found that putting a bit of bicarbonate of soda on the damp sicky bits before washing them out freshned them up fine.  Any poo stains I spot-washed out with pure hand soap and rinsed really well. 

Smooth, baby-soft skin
It was amazing how fast his skin recovered, within days it was just smooth baby skin again.  I still kept it moisturised using a selection of plant based creams and Sudocrem, as a barrier cream on his face.  I noticed in the first few weeks, he’d go bright red when we went out, either to friends or toddler groups, people would comment how red he went as they held him but with time this lessened.  

The other thing that amazed me was how fast a reaction could come and go.
I’d try him in other clothing and the spots would re-appear with in hours.  Even other brands of organic clothing had his spots coming up.  I’m using a few products round the house which are gentle plant based detergents and so far we have had no problems. 

Disappointed in doctors
Prior to my baby boy’s eczema I’d always got on well with our family doctors, they had always been fantastic with problems we had.  On the 3 or 4 occasions I tried to explain I felt that J was having a problem with his clothing or something on it, they either dismissed it or worse made me feel stupid. 

It’s been bothering me a lot since. I can’t help thinking what state my poor boy would have got in if I’d followed their advice and kept on covering him in emollients, putting the same clothing on him and kept giving him the baths they recommended.  Even now, when I’ve taken J back with his skin completely normal and tried to say it was something on his clothing, they’re not interested at all.  I’m not saying emollients and bath additives are never a good solution for dry skin, but in the case of my son it wasn’t the answer at all. 

During my hunt for answers I read and heard so many eczema stories about babies suffering, being bandaged from head to toe or hospitalised and it’s truly heart breaking.  Lots of cases sounded so similar to J’s.  I read forums were people had been told the skin was fine under the nappy because of the moisture there and other people who advocated wearing no clothes at all.  Endless stories about people who had found relief in a change of laundry product or personal care things.  I’m not anti-doctors by any means or their creams and steroids.  Perhaps they simply don’t have the time to deal with finding non-clinical solutions for this kind of thing. 

Our Update
He had amongst other triggers an extreme contact reaction to all synthetic detergents, and up untill the age of 2 he was mildly intolerant to cow’s milk.

We’ve also much better at dealing with flare ups and keeping his skin healthy and happy.   As his Mummy I no longer felt sick and scared when his eczema poped up – at 2 Josh still has the same very sensitive skin he did 10 months ago but we learnt how to cope with it – there is hope!

J is at school now!  Mainly remains totally eczema free.  As he's got older his skin has got less and less sensitive.
Even now we still get the odd flare up which we can usually pin down quickly to one of his triggers. 
I still chose mild products and if we try to swap to a 'normal' washing powder his skin starts to get dry and itchy again.

Still searching for solutions!
I’m still hunting for products and items that are safe for infants with eczema.  It worries me that what we put on our skin is also in-part absorbed into the body, so I'm keen that whatever I had to put on him regularly was as safe as possible.

I want to share our story and our search with people whom it may help, but I also want to get ideas from other people about what has worked for them.  I hate the thought of parents and babies struggling with something that in some cases, perhaps many cases, could be prevented.

I spent such a lot of money getting deliveries from different companies and shops and I wished more things had been available from one place, hence the shop here.  Testimonials from people that had used products also helped me to choose what I thought might work.  I still have a good few things to try as I test things so slowly and carefully.  It is my wish to reach as many people as possible who are suffering with eczema and create a website that evolves as people join, contribute their experiences and find their own answers.