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Ask Dr. Sears: Treating Newborn Eczema

Q. Our 13-week-old daughter has very dry skin. Our pediatrician said we could use any fragrance-free adult body lotion. We've been using Aveeno, but it doesn't seem to be helping. What's the best way to care for dry newborn skin?

Dry skin needs to be treated not only from the outside with emollients (skin softeners) as your doctor suggested, but also from the inside, with dietary changes and hydration. Try these skin-softening home remedies:

"Oil" your baby's diet. The skin's softness is highly influenced by the amount and types of healthy fats in your baby's diet. In older children, I regard dry, scaly skin as a clue that the child may not be incorporating enough healthy fats, such as omega 3's, into the diet. In fact, one of the newest treatments of eczema in both children and adults is to eat oily seafood and take daily fish oil capsules. If you are breastfeeding, you can increase the healthy fats in your breast milk by upping your own dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids. I suggest eating at least four ounces of wild salmon twice weekly (wild Alaskan salmon is not only the highest in omega-3 fats, but also the lowest in pollutants) as well as taking a daily fish oil capsule at a dose of at least one gram. An especially good supplement for pregnant and lactating mothers is Neuromins, which contains DHA, a highly nutritional omega-3 fatty acid that is also added to most infant formulas. If you are formula-feeding, be sure you feed your baby a formula whose label reads "enriched with DHA and ARA." If dry skin is still a problem as your baby gets older and begins eating solid foods, offer her such healthy-fat foods as wild salmon, avocado, and flax oil.

"Wet" your baby's skin. It's quite possible that your baby's skin is under-hydrated, both inside and out. If you're formula-feeding, offer your baby an extra four to eight ounces of water a day. If you're nursing, try adding one extra feeding to give her additional fluids. After her baths, instead of toweling her completely dry, gently blot her skin of excess water. Let the areas of skin that are particularly problematic air-dry. Dressing your baby in loose-fitting cotton clothing and sleepwear also allows the skin to breathe.

Dry heat (such as central home heating) is one of the main causes of dry, scaly skin conditions. So it makes sense that your baby's skin is suffering in the cold winter months. To counteract the dry heat, use a moist heat source: Run one or two vaporizers in your baby's nursery. The condensation of the water releases heat and humidifies the air, making your baby's sleeping environment more skin-friendly. As an extra perk, the humidified air will keep her tiny breathing passages from drying out.