When it comes to eczema there’s not much you can do to prevent it.
Since eczema is usually caused by an issue with the immune system or a defect in the skin, the only real way to prevent baby eczema is to establish a good skin care routine for your baby that minimizes their risk of flare-ups and dry skin.
How Skin Care can Prevent Eczema:
Something every parent can do from birth to reduce the risk of eczema is to establish a healthy skin care practice with your baby. That means:
- Avoid soap and bubble bath (just water is fine!), especially those with sodium lauryl sulfate
- Use fragrance-free products
- Avoid bath oils and additives which are very drying
- Avoid using chemical / soap-based baby wipes, if possible
Maintaining healthy skin means not stripping your baby’s skin of its natural oils and protective layers.
Additionally, studies have shown that daily care of the skin with emollients from birth can be incredibly effective at preventing skin barrier dysfunction. In fact, one study showed that daily use of emollients could prevent eczema from starting and thereby limit the chances of food allergy.
According to the National Eczema Society, “emollients are non-cosmetic moisturizers which come in the form of creams, ointments, lotions and gels. Emollients help skin to feel more comfortable and less itchy. They keep the skin moist and flexible, helping to prevent cracks.”
Examples of emollients include:
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
- Petroleum Jelly (like Vaseline)
- Commercial creams like CeraVe, Cetaphil Cream, Aquaphor Healing Ointment, Doublebase Gel, and others
Based on the research, you should apply an emollient to your baby's entire body, except the scalp. Emollients can be applied anytime, but definitely after a bath. Start applying an emollient daily as soon as possible after birth and continue until your baby is at least 6 months old.
Starting a daily emollient routine is a great opportunity to bond with your baby, especially if you use it as part of a baby massage routine. YouTube has many videos explaining various techniques for baby massage. No matter which you choose, your baby will love the one-on-one time, and you will love that your baby is protected.
Can Breastfeeding Prevent Eczema?
Exclusive breastfeeding has many benefits but has not been shown to prevent eczema.
A recent study showed that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 months seemed to reduce the number and severity of eczema flares by age 6. However, over 20% of children involved in the study still developed eczema at some point by age 6, regardless of whether or not they were exclusively breastfed.
Some mothers swear by covering their baby’s skin with breastmilk to reduce the risk of eczema, but this has not been proven to work.
What About Probiotics?
Experts have determined that there is weak evidence to suggest that probiotics help prevent eczema.
The biggest challenge with probiotics — supplements or food containing live bacteria — is that they are not heavily regulated and the term “probiotic” simply means bacteria - it doesn’t tell you which bacteria, or how much bacteria.
While at least one study has shown that taking the probiotic L rhamnosus during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can reduce the risk of developing eczema, the overall data is mixed.
Furthermore, a meta-analysis of dietary supplements including fish oil, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, B6, buckthorn oil, hemp seed oil, and sunflower oil showed no convincing evidence that they can reduce the risk of eczema.