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The Perfect (Baby Eczema) Storm

There’s a saying in publishing: “Once is an incident, twice a coincidence, three times a trend.” So when Kaspar slept through the night for three nights in a row at the beginning of last week, I not only felt like a new person (ahhhhh… sleep!), but I also thought we’d officially cleared the regular four-in-the-morning feedings hurdle. There we were at the three-month mark exactly, humming along nicely with a happy, healthy baby, and a working rhythm to our days. I knew things were about to get a little shaken up by my return to work, but we were prepared for the transition; we scored an ideal nanny-share for two days a week, Aaron signed on for two days, and—the icing— I successfully negotiated my work-week down to four days so that I can spend my Fridays being a mom. Needless to say I had some extra kick in my step.

Then, a little universal law (a lesser-known cousin of Murphy’s Law) kicked in. It’s the law that makes it pour when it rains. It’s easy to freak out when The Law of the Perfect Storm rears its head, especially when you’re a new mom.

Kaspar’s had eczema since he was about two months old. It’s related to asthma, which Aaron had as a kid, so we weren’t surprised when it showed up. We’ve kept it in check by slathering him in moisturizer, and he hasn’t shown any signs of discomfort. That is, until last week. His cheeks were somewhat rosy and rough when he went to bed last Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning they were bright red, and “weeping,” as angry eczema does. His body looked irritated, too. He also kept swiping at his face with his little mitten-covered hands, which exacerbated the problem, and although he was still smiling and laughing as usual, his naps were fitful and he seemed uncomfortable (moms just know).

After that, the storm hit. From Thursday through Sunday, Kaspar’s face worsened (as Aaron said, it looked like he’d been through a cheese grater), his ears swelled up, and he was miserable. We went to the pediatrician twice and got a prescription for antibiotic cream, but left with more questions than answers. I read everything there is to read online about eczema and wondered exactly which potentially toxic environmental factor caused the flare-up (Dairy? Wheat? Corn? Nuts? Citrus fruits? Dust? The cats? Was it the breast milk or the formula or the air or what?). I dropped a wad on hypoallergenic formula that smelled like wall paint, which Kaspar refused to eat. I myself ate only quinoa and chicken for thirty-six hours, in an attempt to cut out the offending allergen, if it happened to be something I was eating. Aaron got food poisoning from a deli sandwich and spent Friday night through Saturday night totally incapacitated, throwing up every hour. I was exhausted, and distraught. We were a collective mess.

What had happened to our rhythm? Our humming-along-nicely? Our happy, healthy baby? I couldn’t imagine going off to work with things in this state. I needed answers and solutions, damnit.

It dawned on me. I had switched Kaspar’s moisturizer the Monday before. I’d gotten a bottle of Aveeno Baby cream (that says right on the bottle that it’s good for eczema) instead of the usual California Baby cream I had been using. We’d run out, and, without thinking twice, I’d picked up the Aveeno at a pharmacy that didn’t carry California Baby.

As soon as this occurred to me, I looked at the Aveeno bottle and noted that the ingredients list was full of parabens and the like. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this earlier. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read the ingredients. Of course we hadn’t yet experienced a flare-up at the time, so I had no idea of what a moisturizer-misstep could incur.

I switched Kaspar back to the California Baby cream on Sunday night. We had an appointment with a pediatric dermatologist on Monday, and by the time we arrived, he looked almost normal. The doctor had a good look at him, and said that he does indeed have eczema, and he did indeed have a secondary reaction to the Aveeno cream (interestingly, she said she sees problems with that cream, and other Johnson’s products, a lot). She said that we don’t need to switch his formula, I can eat whatever I want, and that allergy testing isn’t necessary at this point. She prescribed some low-dose hydrocortisone cream to heal his face. It worked within two days, and we’ve stopped using it now (I want to keep that to a minimum). We’re back on the California Baby, and Kaspar’s back to his normal happy, healthy, self. I’m also back at work, and much relieved that we are humming-along-nicely, even if Kaspar does still want to eat at four in the morning.

Now that I know what a perfect storm angry eczema can be, I have so much empathy for those of you for whom the cause, and solutions, have not been so easily discerned! Have you dealt with eczema or allergies in your infants? How did you identify the allergies, and how do you address them? Bring on the horror stories, and share your successes and suggestions!