In the grand scheme of everything that could go wrong in keeping a tiny human alive, atopic dermatitis (or eczema) is probably the very least of your worries. Dry, inflamed skin never killed anyone. It did; however, help me overcome self-doubt and discover my mama instincts. Our sweet #gingerbaby has eczema. We first noticed it when I went back to work 3 months postpartum. This is the worst time for your kid to even get the sniffles when you're a first-time parent. You're already questioning your purpose in life and whether going to work will ruin your child. Does he have skin problems because I went back to work? Yes, I should probably quit my job and stay home. I'll learn to craft.
If you've ever experienced sending your kid to daycare for the first time, it's like losing a limb. I cried just visiting centers before Cooper was even born. Add reports of him being incredibly uncomfortable, irritable and coming home with bloody cheeks, and you've got one bummed mama. We tried baby lotions, exfoliating, coconut oil and Aquaphor...lots of Aquaphor. So much Aquaphor our walls were covered in tiny greasy hand prints. After a few weeks of worsening symptoms, we went to our pediatrician.
We love our doctor, who's been very kind through all the first-time parent calls. Is he supposed to poop this much? We brought Cooper in several times and were prescribed a few different steroid creams. When those didn't solve the problem (and we were starting worrying about body building roid rage) the doctor suggested changing my diet because I was breastfeeding. The first thing he recommended to cut out was dairy for four weeks. I mean ALL dairy. No butter, no cheese, no milk. Dairy is in everything except vegetables, and no one likes vegetables. If there were cheese in vegetables, more people would eat them.
I had done enough research to know this was only one of the many things that can cause eczema. The biggest causes are genetics and skin texture. A voice inside (probably my appetite) was telling me dairy wasn't it, but my self-doubt (like a tiny life-sucking vampire) told me to trust the doctor.
Breastfeeding requires a higher calorie count, and without dairy I couldn't eat enough. After having so much milk in storage I couldn't use anymore, I had to pump in the middle of the night just to have enough to bring to daycare. Cooper dropped a lot of weight and the eczema kept up. It wasn't until I was down to a few ounces in the freezer and a tearful evening that my mama instincts kicked into gear and slayed the self-doubt vampire (let's call him Carl).
I called the best pediatric dermatologist at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital and got in right away. I knew we had made the right decision the second Dr. Maguiness walked into the room. She took one look at me and my blotchy kid and got right to work. I told her I had been dairy-free for a month, and she said, "Oh hunny, eat the cheese!" I immediately burst into tears of joy.
I'm no medical professional, so please don't try this without seeing Dr. Maguiness first. Here's what she prescribed for Cooper's eczema:
- Full bathtub soak with a quarter cup of bleach every night. I know this sounds crazy, but there is more chlorine and chemicals in a swimming pool than in this combination. It helped kill the bacteria and clear away the dry skin.
- Triamcinolone prescription cream to reduce inflammation slathered on a wet baby.
- More Aquaphor.
The eczema disappeared in two days, and Cooper turned into a new baby. He started sleeping more at daycare, and he was happier than we'd ever seen him. We still have flare-ups every now and then, but we've got the tools to clean it up before it gets uncomfortable for our little nugget.
Even after I added dairy back into my diet, I wasn't able to keep up with the milk supply. It had depleted so much during my cheese-less month (the dark time) that I stopped producing enough milk through exclusively pumping at work. I quit breastfeeding earlier than I would have liked to, but my kid survived and I drank more wine.
It's strange, but treating eczema in Cooper helped me find my voice in parenting. It helped me realize that I get to determine what's right and wrong for our family. It gave me the confidence to be an advocate for my son, who can't talk let alone make a healthcare decision.
When things don't feel right, you're probably right. Trust your mama instincts, for they are stronger than vampires.