Your New Baby
Once your new baby has arrived you may wish to consider what steps you can take to try to minimise the risks of allergy developing during the early months of its life.
Research has shown that our environment plays an important part in the development of allergies, and babies may be more sensitive to certain environmental factors than older children. The following recommendations have been put together with the expertise of midwives and paediatricians to help you consider what factors you could change for the benefit of your baby.
Baby Skin Care
There are numerous baby skin care products for parents to choose from during the preparation for baby’s arrival. Making some decisions in the light of research may help parents reduce the risk of allergy for their child.
Research is now looking into how skin is cared for in newborn babies and how this may either prevent, or lead to, skin reactions and eczema. We now know that in many children, eczema is a genetic disease where the ability of the skin to act as a barrier is reduced. The child becomes more vulnerable to substances penetrating this protective barrier, and a child at risk of allergy may become sensitised to potential allergens. This is particularly the case if skin is inflamed or broken.
We are still learning about the possible links between baby eczema, other skin problems, and the possible development of allergy. Whilst there is nothing that can be done to prevent eczema, you may wish to consider the following advice to try to prevent the skin from becoming dry.
A newborn baby’s skin is very delicate and sensitive and the natural oils on the surface are there to protect it. Researchers who looked at how very young babies were bathed suggested that just using plain water to wash and clean a baby’s skin (for instance, when changing nappies) was best in terms of avoiding skin problems. They suggested that this plain water regime was continued for the first month. If you have your baby in hospital, you may wish to tell the staff that you do not want your baby bathed, or if it is, that only plain water is used.
Most babies have some patches of dry skin, but some are born with very dry skin. If your baby is born with dry skin you can ask soon after the birth for advice about keeping your baby’s skin moisturised. If your baby goes on to develop very dry skin after the birth, seek help from your health visitor or GP as soon as possible. In both cases, healthcare professionals can advise you about special products you can add to your baby’s bath and moisturising creams which are safe to use on very young babies.
The British Association of Dermatologists recommends that products which may irritate the skin should be avoided, including soap, detergents and wool, as well as avoiding extremes of temperature. It suggests using a 50/50 mixture of white soft paraffin and liquid paraffin as a moisturiser after bathing to help protect the skin.
Many different skin products are available for use with babies, and manufacturers often stress that these have been specially formulated and tested to be safe for use on babies’ sensitive skin. Indeed, many parents use them on their newborn babies without problems. We are not suggesting that eczema is caused by using any of these products, but that if there is an underlying predisposition to developing the condition, then some of the ingredients may cause a reaction.
During the first few months after baby’s birth it can be an extremely tiring and stressful time for new parents. If you wish to use these products, then simply monitor your baby’s skin for any rashes or skin problems that do appear. If you find a product that suits your baby, then it is sensible to continue to use that product rather than experimenting with numerous different smells and lotions. If you suspect that a product you are using is causing a skin reaction on your baby, stop using it, treat any affected area with care and seek help with treatment from your health visitor or GP.
Some skin creams that are sold for use on babies contain peanut oil (arachis), and there is some question as to whether using these products on infants with nappy rash or eczema may be associated with the later development of peanut allergy. If you are at all concerned about this, check the ingredients on the packet, or ask your healthcare practitioner.
Remember, every baby suffers with nappy rash from time to time. The most common reason for this is the ammonia that is produced from stale urine in the nappy, which irritates skin. When nappy rash is present, it is advisable to use water-based wipes rather than alcohol-based ones and, if using soap, only use a mild one and avoid scented products. If using laundered nappies, ensure that they are only washed in non-biological products.
Nappy rash may become aggravated during times of illness but, if you are worried because the rash does not improve over several days, seek medical advice, especially if the rash spreads outside the nappy area or the skin becomes broken or weeping.
While clothing will not cause your baby to have an allergy, the first clothes your baby wears will be right next to his or her delicate skin. Some parents are concerned about how to care for these items, and like to know how to reduce any potential irritants. The following is sensible advice on how to care for babies clothing.
- Some mothers like to wash new clothes before first being worn by their baby. If you are reusing clothes that you kept from a previous baby, or that have been handed to you from other people, you may wish to wash these too if you are unsure of where or how they have been stored. This will ensure that they are fresh and clean for your baby’s skin.
- Many washing powders are very potent; their selling point is that they remove stains and dirt at low temperature washes. Biological washing products contain strong chemicals and enzymes to do this, and some people, not just babies, have a non-allergic reaction to these when they wear the clothes once they have been washed. This reaction is called irritant dermatitis.
To avoid your baby’s delicate skin reacting to the washed clothes that they wear, use non-biological washing liquids or powders. The British Allergy Foundation Seal of Approval is awarded by Allergy UK to products that have been shown not to irritate sensitive skin. If you see this Seal of Approval on washing products, you can be sure that they have been studied by independent scientists and dermatologists in order that we can be as certain as possible that they are least likely to cause skin problems. More information on this can be found by contacting the Allergy UK helpline.
Air pollution can take many forms, and often people do not realise that their houses may, at times, harbour pollutants. It is especially easy in the busy time when baby first arrives home that everyday chemicals can be overlooked as potential pollutants. Some of these are unavoidable and are just in the atmosphere where they are at undetected levels. However, it is sensible to avoid using chemical sprays such as perfumes, deodorants, hairsprays and cleaning products where the baby is in the room.
Cigarette smoke is a well-known hazard for infants and should always be avoided. Studies have shown that, in infants who are at risk of allergy, second-hand cigarette smoke may lead to allergic rhinitis by the time the baby is 12 months old. However, there are more compelling reasons not to allow your baby to inhale cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke contains many dangerous chemicals and can increase the risk of cot death and respiratory infections in infants.
It is important to be sensible about the risk of exposure to your baby, but not to encourage widespread use of products which could increase the likelihood of potential irritants within the environment. For this reason it is also sensible advice to avoid your baby breathing in any gas or vapour from beauty or cleaning products, or other products that disperse chemicals into the air.
- Early treatment of eczema and other skin conditions may halt allergy development
- To protect the skin you may wish to bathe your baby in just plain water for the first month
- If your baby is born with, or develops, very dry skin ask for advice from your GP, Midwife, or Health Visitor
- There are special creams and bath products available on prescription, made specifically for very young babies with dry skin
- Nappy rash is common in all babies
- Consider seeking medical advice when nappy rash spreads outside the nappy area, or the skin is broken or weeping
- Use a non-biological clothes washing product
- Do not smoke around infants and young children
- Avoid spraying chemical cleaners, or deodorants around your baby
Last updated: March 2012