If taking care of a baby is like running a marathon, then the 5-7 p.m. stretch is my final few miles. By that point, I’m so wiped out that sometimes after dinner, I’ll just wash my son’s hands and face instead of giving him a proper bath. Is it a big deal? Of course not — it’s not like I’m sending him to bed with an empty stomach or anything. But still, I feel bad about dropping tub time, and sometimes even go so far as to ask myself what kind of mother puts her baby to bed without cleaning off the day’s dirt. (Ah, mommy guilt.)
So you can imagine my relief when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a possible link between eczema and improper care of baby’s skin, including giving them too many baths. (Yup, such a thing exists!) According to a study conducted by Dr. Eric Simpson, an associate professor of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, parents reported using baby wash and shampoo an average of five times a week. This is way more than the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official recommendation of three baths a week tops during the first year of life. “People are bathing their babies too much,” Dr. Simpson told the Journal. “If you expose skin to water and let it air dry, that leads to dryness, like the bottom of a river bed that cracks open when it dries.” (Hence all the inflammation and persistent itchiness associated with eczema.)
But it’s not just too much tub time that could make baby’s skin prone to the disease. Genetics, indoor heating, and pollutants all play a role, as does skipping a moisturizer your child after a bath. In fact, recent studies confirm the AAP’s recommendation that parents apply lotion daily to baby’s skin and always after a bath. (Thick, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic lotions are best for locking in much-needed moisturizers.)
“There hasn’t been much ever before that’s been shown to alter the chances of a child to develop eczema,” said Seth Orlow, chairman of the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Though he wasn’t involved in the research on eczema and moisturizers, he told the Journal that “this suggests we can do something low-tech and change whether a child gets this disease. Wow, that’s pretty exciting if so.”
I’m with Dr. Orlow. My son has mild eczema, and it’s tough to watch him deal with the discomfort, especially during this time of year. Though there’s no cure for the itching and dry patches, it’s comforting to know that now there’s a proven way we can help manage the symptoms — and it’s something most of us are doing anyway.
Tell us: How often do you bathe your baby? What does your bathtime routine look like?
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How to Treat Eczema
Image of baby in the bathtub courtesy of Shutterstock