Clare Barton describes the challenges she has faced since her newborn baby developed eczema.
Although my husband’s brother has suffered from chronic eczema all his life, and my own brother is quite an atopic individual suffering from hay fever and various allergies, it never occurred to me when I was pregnant that my daughter would go on to develop any of these conditions.
At first, Isla looked like any other newborn due to the pain and discomfort it was peace of mind to know I’m doing and we were all delighted with her arrival. However, when she was around 4–6 weeks old a rash developed on her face.
I took her to see our GP and was assured it was simply milk spots but, even though I was a first-time Mum, I just knew something wasn’t right. We now know that this was actually the start of infected eczema.
When I put her to bed her skin was still spotty and I was quite concerned, but worse was yet to come. When I went to pick her up the next morning her skin had become a weepy mess. I went straight to my Mum’s as I just couldn’t handle seeing my baby in such distress. Mum stayed up most of the next night with Isla but it was difficult to even cuddle her as her face would stick to Mum’s nightgown.
We went to the local hospital and got in touch with our GP and were prescribed an antibiotic cream and an emollient. Unfortunately, Isla reacted extremely badly to either one or both of these and her skin became even redder and angrier.
We were then prescribed oral antibiotics which tasted incredibly bitter so we just couldn’t get her to swallow them. Thankfully we were then given alternative antibiotics that weren’t quite as offensive and she took those.
It was awful watching her suffer so much. In the end the skin around her mouth became so sore that I had to stop breastfeeding, as she just couldn’t latch on causing her.
Between 2 months old and her 1st Birthday Isla had seven lots of antibiotics because of repeated infections and we also found that in her ‘wet’ areas – i.e. under her chin and arms – there was a persistent fungal infection, which we treated with antifungal cream.
We liberally applied emollient to keep her skin moisturised and also used 1% hydrocortisone as directed. However, each time the skin became infected it never quite returned to its previous state, which meant it was steadily going downhill as time went on.
My mother suggested homeopathy as when my brother was little it was the only thing that helped him. He’d been treated at the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, so I knew the importance of going to a registered practitioner, and I decided to continue Isla’s conventional medicine alongside any other treatment.
She was 7 months old when we first tried homeopathic remedies. Initially this took the form of a tiny little tablet but now she has a drop of sulphur on her tongue every day. I can’t pinpoint which aspects of her skin’s recent improvement are down to the homeopathic treatment but I do think it helps her with the itchiness as she does seem to be less itchy since she began the course.
I also know it can take months for such remedies to get into the system and to fully take effect so I know we have to be patient. As a parent though it gives me everything I can for her by exploring all the options.
As a new Mum I have found the whole experience very hard. We moved to a new town just two days before Isla was born and, although Mum is only an hour away and a huge help, I’d gone from working full time in a town where I knew lots of people to being at home every day in a town where I had no support network.
I Googled anything and everything and the National Eczema Society kept coming up. The first time I rang the helpline I was in tears and a really lovely lady calmed me down, talked to me at length about the problems we were facing and sent me some brilliant leaflets.
Things she told me, and that I subsequently read when the factsheets arrived, I’d not been told previously by anyone, and it just made such a difference. I immediately became a member.
Over time I’ve obviously made new friends and it’s been really helpful to meet other parents with children with eczema, especially at local baby groups. Everyone seems to manage their child’s eczema in very different ways so I’ve picked up lots of great advice and tips.
Simple things like being told to apply the emollient in the direction of the hair growth and keeping it in the fridge in the summer so it’s cool and soothing have been invaluable. I didn’t even know you could try different emollients until another Mum told me!
Isla was nocturnal for the first 3 months of her life and neither myself, nor my husband, got any sleep in the first 1.5 months as she was just so ill. But now she sleeps very well compared with other children her age. Although the itching wakes her up she soon settles herself.
Part of establishing a successful sleeping routine has been to keep her covered completely so she can’t attack her skin in the night. Before that we would often come into her room in the morning and find her bleeding.
Keeping control of her body temperature remains a real problem for us though and summer was a nightmare. I was constantly stripping her off to keep her cool and it was infuriating how many people felt they needed to ask me if I thought my baby was getting too cold!
Even in the cooler weather I am very careful not to overwrap her and to put her in loose clothing to avoid overheating. The one good thing the sun did however was to dry up her weeping sores.
We also weaned her quite early and I remember sitting out having a picnic and suddenly noticing that she was completely red around the mouth from eating finger food. I looked around at what she might have eaten and deduced it was a tomato. I then cut a fresh one and rubbed it on her back, where the skin was in good condition, and immediately it went bright
red. I immediately eliminated tomatoes from her diet but I have since been told that she’s not allergic and that it’s simply the acidic juice in them that makes her skin react as it’s so delicate and sensitive.
Recently, and after over 6 months of asking for one, we finally got a referral to see a dermatologist. I had begun to feel like a stereotypical first-time Mum as I’d spoken to the GP’s surgery on a weekly basis since Isla was 2 months old. Even things as simple as getting the right pump dispenser so I wasn’t exposing her to reinfection by continually putting my hand back in her emollient tub just took so long to resolve.
The dermatologist was shocked we’d not been referred earlier as she said that the treatment regimen we were on was never going to get the eczema under control as it had gone far beyond that. I was devastated when I realised that my little girl could have been clear-skinned months ago if only we’d been able to access secondary care earlier.
We were prescribed stronger steroid creams with the recommendation to use different ones on different areas depending on the severity of the eczema. We also swapped to an alternative emollient that suits Isla’s skin far better. After just 72 hours of this new regimen, we saw an amazing difference.
She is now clearer than she has been since she was 2 weeks old and it’s just wonderful. I can’t stop stroking her lovely smooth skin and she now looks just like my friends’ babies. Isla has also changed in herself. She’s always been a happy baby but she’s even smilier now and very bouncy. She’s got that sparkle in her eyes!
I’ve definitely become more confident over the past year and I can now recognise when the eczema becomes infected – which nobody warned me it would do in the beginning. It’s a case of waking up each morning, looking at Isla’s skin and dealing with it appropriately. Every day is different but I now feel I can make the best decisions for her as I know so much more.
My main advice to any parent dealing with eczema for the first time is to go with your gut instinct and to persevere. I knew it wasn’t milk spots I was looking at when she was first diagnosed and I also knew it was vital for her to see a dermatologist, which is why I persisted for so long in getting her an appointment.
We’re not being over-anxious parents, we’re just trying to do the very best for our children and that means exploring every avenue, even if there are lots of hurdles to overcome along the way. It’s also vital to have a strong support network – without the support of my wonderful mother, I would not have coped half as well.”