As a Naturopath, I have worked with many clients over the past 10 years on this issue and have had some success and some failures. It is a difficult issue so I want to cover what I know all in one post for reference.
Recently I came across an article that suggested that breastfeeding for the first two years of life was found to prevent atopic dermatitis in infants if the mother did not have allergies or asthma. Results were not significant in mothers with allergies and there was no protection if the mother had asthma. So we have here the confirmation that the infant's eczema is related to the mother's health.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the book Gut & Psychology Syndrome describes the connection as such:
"Babies are born with an immature immune system. Establishment of normal gut flora in the first 20 or so days of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of the baby's immunity. As these children acquire abnormal gut flora (from their mothers) they are left immune-compromised."
This gut dysbiosis leads to a damaged gut wall and toxins, microbes and undigested foods enter the body causing physical problems in the child such as eczema and asthma.
I believe that the connection may go a little bit deeper. In a mother with a compromised gut system and intestinal permeability there are undigested proteins and endotoxins from pathogenic forms of bacteria leaking into her bloodstream. Her immune system actively works to eliminate these pathogens. These immune compounds such as histamine, cytokines, etc. get into her breastmilk. Because the mother's body is training the infant's immune system through her breast milk the baby's immature immune system responds to the cascade of immune complexes resulting in the eczema. Even if the baby itself does not have poor gut bacteria and intestinal permeability, their body reacts as if it does due to the mother's immune complexes in her milk. This causes inflammation and irritation that may result in further health complications. I do not currently have studies to support this theory but I will continue my informal research to see what I can find.
These are the characteristics I see from these children:
- Itchy skin that weeps a clear fluid or bleeds if scratched
- Skin itching worse at night causing poor sleep
- Tiny bumps covering the scalp, face, back, stomach, legs, arms etc.
- Thick patches of white or yellowish secretions under armpits and on scalp
- Skin is dry all over the body and papery thin although the hair and scalp may be greasy
- Redness may concentrate on the cheeks or around the mouth
- Child also suffers from poor weight gain and nutritional deficiencies
- Constipation, colic, reflux and other digestive upsets may occur
- Food sensitivities to multiple foods including when mother eats them and breastfeeds the baby
- Child may be irritable and cranky depending on the severity of the skin condition
- Mother has a history of digestive problems, food sensitivities, allergies, or asthma
- Eczema may reduce if weaned or they may grow out of it as the child matures
- Steroid creams and topical applications offer temporary and minor relief
- Moisture is not retained in the skin
- Older siblings may share skin issues, food sensitivities, asthma or allergies but often to a more mild degree
I have worked with many clients as a GAPS Practitioner through the GAPS diet in trying to heal the mother's gut dysbiosis. There has been some success with this approach depending on the severity of the mother's issues. Mothers who have other complications such as glandular imbalances due to gut dysbiosis will often have a harder time.
I am suspicious that the severity of this problem and the drastic increases in numbers may also have other environmental factors influencing it. I have been following the potential impacts of the following:
- Genetically modified foods
- Increase in Pesticides in food and the environment
- Flame Retardants in clothing and bedding
- Overuse of Antibiotics
I have started an online support group through Facebook for parents so that I can more thoroughly research the common factors tied to this issue. I also hope it will help provide parents with ideas for ways to cope with symptoms.
To Your Health,