Good news on allergies and eczema in young children keeps coming this winter. Eczema—superficial dry itching skin made much worse by scratching—is a sign in the first 4 months of life of future allergies and asthma. Doctors often call this the "itch that scratches" since most of the damage to the skin comes from the child's own fingernails or by whatever the child is rubbing against in an attempt to lessen the itch. Now a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics has found that eczema can be markedly improved by simply applying plain, unscented petroleum jelly like Vaseline after bathing to any dry skin on the baby especially on exposed surfaces such as the face.
Many caregivers like cream-based moisturizers that smell "good" and dissolve completely into the skin, but plain old unscented ointments such as Vaseline work the best at keeping the skin moisturized and preventing the development of bad eczema. Avoiding hot water and harsh scented soaps also helps. In this case, clean is good, too clean is bad. Preventing bad eczema seems to minimize severe respiratory allergies that can result in asthma. So after bathing your new baby, cover the skin with lots of plain, unscented petroleum jelly and your child will appreciate your wisdom.
Doctors are just like other people, they believe some things because they seem to make sense, not because they have been proven true. For many years they have been telling mothers to avoid feeding highly allergic foods such as peanuts, shellfish, and tropical fruits in the first two years of life to prevent food allergies. This idea never made sense to me since cultures that do give these foods early, such as peanut containing baby food in Israel, have essentially no food allergies.
Then last week, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued new guidelines on how to introduce peanuts to babies—including babies at high risk for adverse reactions to help prevent an allergy. The new large study proved what I have said several times before in this blog. Feeding children peanut containing food after 4 months is just fine and will eliminate peanut allergies most of the time. I believe this is probably true of other common food allergies, but only peanuts have actually been tested, so the new recommendation is for peanuts only.
So for your infant, buy the inexpensive super-sized unscented petroleum jelly tub and slather it on at least daily to help prevent skin problems. And between 4 and 6 months (check the recommendations or consult your doctor for more guidance), start some baby food with finely grounded peanuts. Remember never give whole or coarsely ground nuts to a child under 2-years-old: they can be accidently swallowed the wrong way and get stuck in the wind-pipe which can be fatal.