Eczema is a common skin condition that usually begins before your child is one year old. Our gut guru and senior naturopath—Denise Hales—gives us hope when it comes to dealing with childhood eczema.
How it begins
The affected skin area becomes dry, red, and itchy. This alone can cause the whole family sleepless nights, as children scratch at these itchy patches, which then increases the risk of infection. That in itself results in a miserable and cranky child, flowing on to other family members.
Repairing the immune system
Never fear mums and dads. There is hope. For instance, if you stay away from certain factors that can irritate your child’s skin, such as food and chemical products—whilst repairing and restoring the gut flora where 80% of your immune system resides—this in turn will improve the immune system.
The good news is that most children usually outgrow eczema by the time they turn 6 years old.
Risk factors for childhood eczema
Risk factors include:
- Baby not being breastfed
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Not spending enough time playing in dirt
- Antibiotics given in early life
- Paracetamol used in the pregnancy or early life
- Parents smoking
- Food allergens (think dairy!) either by the breastfeeding mum avoiding all dairy in her diet or changing the formula-fed baby to a non-dairy formula.
Recommendations for eczema prevention
Take probiotics while pregnant
L. rhamnosus given to expectant mothers reduces the risk of eczema in the baby by up to 50%
Plan on a natural birth
Scientists have observed that, during a natural vaginal birth, specific bacteria from the mother’s gut are passed on to the baby and stimulate the baby’s immune responses. This transmission is impacted in children born by caesarean section.
Babies born via C-section have a gut flora that resembles skin flora (including the hospital staff’s skin flora) rather than gut flora. If your baby is born by C section, consider giving him or her a supplement of bifidobacter probiotics.
Breastfeed – the longer, the better
Breast milk promotes the growth of specific gut bacteria that are beneficial for the baby’s immune system. Breast milk contains beneficial bacteria from the mother’s diet (and probiotic supplements if she is taking any).
Introduce small amounts of allergens into the breastfeeding mother’s diet
Most babies have no problems with anything that mum eats. It’s generally recommended that you eat small amounts of food that you like, whenever you like, and continue to do this unless you notice an obvious reaction in your baby. Do stop if the child reacts, such as eczema or mucus in the bowel motions – which are signs of inflammation.
The dirt factor
Let your child play with dogs, in the dirt, take them to parks and gardens, and let them roll in the mud. The more the immune system is trained early on to recognise germs and learns which ones to fight and which ones to accept, the less likely the child is to develop allergies.
Feed your children a whole-food diet
This means plenty of fresh vegetables, no processed or packaged foods, no additives, and keep it low in sugar. Let them drink water.
Make sure your child gets enough vitamins and minerals, especially zinc which is low in Australian, New Zealand, and US soils and is essential for the immune system and skin healing. If your child has white spots on the fingernails, ask your practitioner to check their zinc level.
Encourage your child to play outdoors
Apart from the positive effects of exercise on your child’s overall health, mood, learning, and sleep; time spent in the sunshine is needed to produce vitamin D. The lower your vitamin D, the worse your allergies and eczema.
A word on sunscreens
Beware of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone – an ingredient found in over 50% of sunscreens (and in the blood of 96% of the US population). It can trigger allergic reactions, is a potential hormone disruptor, and penetrates the skin in relatively large amounts with many experts now recommending that it should not be used on children (EWG, 2011).
Avoid chemicals that irritate the immune system and the skin
According to Nicole Bijlsma, “Our obsession to kill germs and create a ‘sterile’ home may predispose our children to asthma and allergies that is contributing to the allergy epidemic”.
Washing powders, fabric softeners, soaps, shampoos, creams that contain perfumes, phthalates, SLS, paraffin, Cap B, propylene glycol, the list goes on. Check your labels! Especially on washing powders, bubble baths, and soaps that can all directly affect the skin.
Don’t suffer alone
If you want to discuss childhood eczema, I would love to see you in clinic for a consultation. You and your family do not have to suffer alone. Book online anytime, or call 1300 03 03 25. Denise x