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When your baby has eczema, you may start wondering if that itchy rash is related to your feeding style. Is breastfeeding to blame? Or the solid foods you just introduced?

Some simple tips can help you get your baby off to a healthy start.

Which is better for a baby with eczema: breast milk or formula?

Breastfeeding is always best, experts say. Breast milk gives your little one the perfect balance of fat, protein, and other nutrients. It's also good for your baby's growing immune system.

"Breastfed infants will get some of the mom's immune system, so it actually helps boost their immunity," says Cindy Gellner, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Utah Community Clinics.

Breastfeeding also helps make the immune system less sensitive. That's important for eczema, which is triggered by an overactive immune system.

Can a breastfeeding mom's diet affect her baby's eczema?

Certain foods in a mom's diet could cause problems for her baby with eczema. If you are breastfeeding, you may want to avoid common triggers like cow's milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.

Signs that your baby is having a reaction to something you ate include an itchy red rash on the chest and cheeks, as well as hives. If you see these symptoms, avoid the food or foods you think may be causing the problem for a couple of weeks.

"If the child has improved, reintroduce the foods one at a time," says Robert Roberts, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at UCLA. Get some help from your doctor so you'll know when it's safe to start eating those foods again.

Which formula is best for bottle-feeding?

"All babies will start off on milk-based formula," Gellner says. "If the baby has a lot of eczema and it's really problematic, then we'll try switching them to a formula made with hydrolyzed proteins."

Hydrolyzed means that the milk proteins are already broken down, so they're less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

At what age should you introduce solid foods?

Experts say you can start your baby on solids between 4 and 6 months old. Ask your pediatrician what age is best based on your child's health and readiness.

What foods should you give your baby first?

Many parents begin with rice or oatmeal cereals, and then graduate their baby to fruits and vegetables. Yet there's no reason to go in that order. It's perfectly fine to start your baby on a fruit or vegetable first.

"The biggest issue for parents of children with eczema is they need to introduce one food at a time so they can know what is causing a problem," says Chris Adigun, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine. "Stick with that food for at least 4 or 5 days before you move on to the next food."

After each new food, watch out for signs of an allergy, such as:

  • Diarrhea, sometimes with blood
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Vomiting

If you see any of these symptoms, call your child's doctor.

When can your child start on cow's milk?

At around 1 year, you can try giving your child whole milk. If you notice any skin problems, ask your doctor if you should switch to soy milk.

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