Eczema in babies

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is the most common form of eczema.1 It mainly affects children, causing their skin to become dry, red, cracked and itchy and usually occurs in folds of the skin (e.g. behind the knees, inside the elbows, on the sides of the neck, around the eyes and ears).

About 20% of children in the UK have eczema.1 It often manifests before the first birthday.1 The exact cause of eczema is not known, but there is thought to be a strong genetic element and in some cases it is linked with other allergies.

Atopic eczema can sometimes be triggered by food allergens, especially before the age of 1 year. Common food allergens include:

  • Cows’ milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Soya
  • Wheat 

Other allergens include: house-dust mites, pet fur and pollen.

Advice for parents

For all infants, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for at least the first 4–6 months of life – it is the best nutrition for babies and also offers the best protection against allergy development. If exclusive breastfeeding is not possible, infants at increased risk of developing allergic disease may benefit from the use of a specially developed formula with a documented preventive effect for the first 4 months of life (as recommended by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology).2,3

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Clinical Knowledge Summary: Eczema – atopic
NICE clinical guideline 57: Atopic eczema in children: management of atopic eczema in children from birth up to the age of 12 years, 2007
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN). Management of atopic eczema in primary care. 2011

For parents

NHS choices: Atopic eczema
National Eczema Society
Allergy UK

Reducing the risk of developing allergy in bottle-fed infants has been a major focus of research.4 The German Infant Nutritional Intervention (GINI) Study5,6 – the world’s largest independent study looking at the prevention of allergies (2,252 babies) – demonstrated that certain formulas, including SMA H.A.® Infant Milk, can reduce the risk of a baby developing atopic eczema by 50% in the first year of life in high-risk babies who had a family history of the condition (those with at least one parent or sibling with an allergy).6

Not all hydrolysed formulas have been found to reduce the risk of developing eczema. Therefore clinical guidelines, such as those developed by the European Academy for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), suggest choosing a formula that has been clinically proven.7

  1. NHS Choices. Atopic eczema. 2014 Available here.
  2. Fleischer DM et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract 2013; 1: 29–36.
  3. de Silva D et al. Allergy 2014; 69: 581–589.
  4. Alexander DD, Cabana MD. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2010; 50: 422–430.
  5. von Berg A et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003; 111: 533–540.
  6. von Berg A et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008; 121: 1442–1447.
  7. Muraro A et al. Allergy 2014; 69: 590–601.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Breast milk is best for babies and breastfeeding should continue for as long as possible. Good maternal nutrition is important for the preparation and maintenance of breastfeeding. Introducing partial bottle-feeding may have a negative effect on breastfeeding and reversing a decision not to breastfeed is difficult. Caregivers should always seek the advice of a doctor, midwife, health visitor, public health nurse, dietitian or pharmacist on the need for and proper method of use of infant milks and on all matters of infant feeding. Social and financial implications should be considered when selecting a method of infant feeding. Infant milk should always be prepared and used as directed. Inappropriate foods or feeding methods, or improper use of infant formula, may present a health hazard.