There is no way to completely prevent a baby from developing eczema. However, avoiding triggers and adopting specific lifestyle changes can help reduce a child’s risk.

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Eczema is a skin condition characterized by patches of skin that are:

  • red, gray, or brown in color
  • itchy
  • dry
  • irritated

It usually appears between 6 months and 5 years of a child’s life.

Experts do not fully understand what causes it, but genetics and the environment play a role.

Studies show that adopting lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers may help reduce the risk of babies with eczema.

This article considers ways to prevent or reduce a baby’s risk of developing eczema. It also discusses some of the causes that are not preventable and other treatment options.

Eczema is a very common condition, affecting 1 in 10 people in the United States. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema in babies, and around 9.6 million children or adolescents under 18 years old have this type of eczema.

There is no sure way to prevent a child from getting eczema. However, parents and caregivers can help repair the baby’s skin barrier and prevent allergens from causing a reaction. They can also reduce the babies’ risk of flare-ups by:

  • Identifying, eliminating, and avoiding triggers: Bodily or environmental triggers may include:
    • sweat
    • saliva
    • pet dander
    • pollen
    • certain materials in clothing
    • fragrances or chemicals in wipes
    • baby powder
    • soap
  • Learning proper bathing techniques: Give babies a warm bath that lasts only 5–10 minutes.
  • Moisturizing regularly: Moisturize the baby twice a day or as often as needed, using a fragrance-free moisturizer.
  • Managing medications: Work with a dermatologist to identify the best and safest treatment for the baby. Follow their directions on how often and long to give the medication to avoid side effects.

There are some additional measures parents or caregivers can take to help reduce the risk of a child developing eczema, which we discuss below.

According to a 2017 study, breastfeeding during the first 4 months of life may result in a 33% reduction in the incidence and severity of atopic dermatitis in high risk children — those with a first-degree relative with atopy. Atopy refers to the genetic disposition of developing an allergic reaction.

Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life. Beyond 6 months, parents and caregivers should maintain breastfeeding along with nutritious complementary foods.

A parent or caregiver should discuss a baby’s risk factors and weaning recommendations with a pediatrician.

Babies exclusively breastfed for 4–6 months and weaned exactly by 4–5 months have the lowest risk for atopic dermatitis. Babies who begin solid foods younger than 4 months have a higher risk of developing eczema.

A 2018 study explored the possible link between transforming growth factor (TGF)-β in breast milk and the development of eczema later in life. (TGF)-β is crucial for the immune system in the neonatal period.

The research showed that a lower TGF-β1 ratio related to the development of eczema during the first 6 months of life. However, there was no difference in the TGF-β2 ratio between the eczema and control groups.

Factors that increase TGF-β1 levels in breast milk may play a role in preventing allergic disease.

Learn more about eczema and breast milk.

After analyzing data from 400 studies, a 2018 study found that mothers who take probiotics during late pregnancy and the first 6 months of breastfeeding may reduce a baby’s risk of eczema. Probiotics may also reduce a child’s risk of cow’s milk allergy.

The same study also found that taking fish oil supplements lowers the risk of egg allergies in children.

Learn more about probiotics and eczema.

The same 2018 study mentioned above notes that introducing cow’s milk to a child before 9 months can slightly increase their risk of atopic dermatitis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that parents or caregivers should not introduce cow’s milk before a child is 12 months old.

After analyzing 42 studies, researchers from a 2017 study suggested a pregnant parent’s diet that is rich in the following lowers the risk of atopic dermatitis in children:

A person should discuss this with a doctor before taking supplements and starting any elimination diets during pregnancy.

Find out what foods to eat and avoid for managing eczema.

Food allergies can worsen atopic dermatitis, and 20–80% of people with atopic dermatitis have food allergies. The most common allergens that trigger atopic dermatitis include:

2015 research concluded that infants with eczema are approximately six times more likely to have an egg allergy and 11 times more likely to have a peanut allergy by 1 year than children without eczema.

Some individuals avoid certain foods during their pregnancy until they stop breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, to reduce the risk of their child having atopic dermatitis.

Previous studies found that parents avoiding certain dietary antigens during the prenatal and postnatal periods was no benefit to a child. However, newer studies indicate that slight dietary modifications may protect against a child developing eczema.

Overall, eating a “cleaner” diet can help. However, some parents or caregivers put children on very restrictive diets. This may place a child at risk of health problems and cause nutrient deficiency.

Parents or caregivers should discuss dietary changes with a pediatrician or nutritionist.

Learn more about the connection between food allergies and eczema.

A 2018 study found that exposure to dogs, both indoor and outdoor, decreases a child’s risk of atopic dermatitis. However, the study found no association with cats.

A 2020 study corroborates these findings and found that having early life exposure to dogs decreases a child’s risk of developing eczema.

While experts do not fully understand the cause of eczema, there are common triggers that cause or aggravate eczema in children. Those found in the child’s body include:

  • dry skin
  • scratching
  • saliva
  • sweat
  • foods on the skin and foods eaten

Outdoor triggers include:

  • heat
  • humidity
  • dry air
  • cold temperature and winds
  • pollen
  • mold
  • pollution
  • sunburn
  • pet dander
  • sudden changes in temperature
  • tobacco smoke
  • dust mites

The skin barrier protects against external threats such as:

  • chemicals
  • pathogens
  • allergens
  • irritants

Eczema damages the skin barrier, allowing microbes and irritants to pass through and cause an immune response.

A 2018 study found that emollients can help prevent atopic dermatitis in infancy. An older 2014 study found similar results, where the daily application of moisturizers for the first 32 weeks reduced the risk of eczema in infants.

In comparison, a 2020 study found no evidence that using daily emollient during the first year prevents eczema in high risk infants. In contrast, it suggested that it can cause an increased risk of infections.

Meanwhile, a 2022 study suggested that healthcare practitioners should not recommend using emollients to prevent atopic dermatitis. However, as needed, they may provide evidence-based recommendations, including using scent-free moisturizers, like petroleum jelly or mineral oil.

Despite the conflicting evidence above, parents or caregivers should discuss what is best for their baby’s skin with a pediatrician.

Many factors triggering or worsening an infant’s atopic dermatitis are modifiable and preventable. However, some factors are nonmodifiable. These include:

  • being male
  • number of siblings
  • personal or family history of conditions such as:
  • having a mother with atopic dermatitis

There is no cure for eczema, but treatment can help manage its symptoms. Treatment will depend on the child’s age, location of the eczema, and the condition’s severity.

Daily bathing with warm water and fragrance-free cleansers with low pH helps hydrate the skin and remove skin crusting, allergens, and irritants.

It is important to regularly apply topical moisturizers to the child’s skin, twice a day, or as often as necessary, and after a bath or shower. Experts recommend using at least 250 grams of emollients to the child’s entire body weekly.

Topical corticosteroids can help ease skin inflammation in infants with mild eczema.

The only topical corticosteroids approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for infants as young as 3 months of age include:

Alternative treatments may include diluted bleach baths and wet wrap therapy.

Learn more about eczema treatments.

There is no way to completely prevent a baby from developing eczema as some genetic and environmental causes are not preventable.

However, parents or caregivers can help reduce a child’s risk by implementing lifestyle changes, such as taking probiotics during pregnancy and lactation and breastfeeding or chestfeeding exclusively for 4–6 months. During pregnancy, people can also eat or avoid certain foods, triggers, and allergens.

Parents or caregivers can work with a pediatrician to discuss risk factors and treatment with a dermatologist to recommend additional treatments for severe cases.