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Pure wool, eczema and young babies

Look how cute! Isn’t she gorgeous. This was my baby when she was just a few months old. But this photo also fills me with horror and guilt when I think back to the consequences of putting her in a garment made of 100% wool. And I cringe when I see it right around her face.

Shortly afterwards, she succumbed to the most horrendous atopic eczema which thankfully, only lasted almost three years. I say ONLY three years, it was a long three years, but it could have lasted well into her teens. She missed out on three months of development – no crawling or exploring as normal babies do, as she just lay on the floor scratching and crying. We cut her nails short, tried putting socks on her hands to stop her scratching at night, but she’d wake up having scratched her face to pieces, stuck to the sheet as she was caked in blood. We attended a weekly eczema clinic to try to find solutions – but just found that she was allergic to the emollient they’d given to treat her skin in the bath. She developed skin infections where she’d been scratching and I was constantly at the GPs getting more Diprobase and in desperation, topical steroids, which over time, will thin the skin. But if it’s a choice between pus-filled, red raw infection and the smallest amount of steroid cream, then I made my choice. Whether it was the right one, I don’t know. I went to see a homeopathic practitioner and made the changes in my diet whilst breastfeeding to see if that helped. It didn’t. I remember just walking her in her pram for hours to try to get fresh air to cool the skin down. In the end, we took her to the seaside, and the seawater seemed to help and gradually, as she turned three, the eczema subsided and she has beautiful skin now and is thankfully, eczema and totally allergy free and can wear pure wool (though I’m still extra cautious about her wearing it right next to her skin).


So what am I saying? What I’m not saying is don’t put babies in pure wool. I’m well aware that traditionally, wool has been used to clothe babies for centuries. And many babies will be fine. I’m just saying to err on the side of caution with very young babies especially if you have any allergies, hayfever, asthma or eczema in your family and especially between the ages of 3 and 6 months. My son had worn the dreaded sheepsuit before my daughter, with no horrendous consequences (other than the embarrassing photos to haul out when he brings a girlfriend home) and I didn’t even think twice about trying it on my daughter. But I should have known better. I had severe eczema as a baby which lasted until early teens – I mean wrapping up in bandages eczema – and severe asthma which meant I was hospitalised at age 11. So I still kick myself for being so blaze about it. Maybe something else would have been the trigger for her, maybe she would have got it anyway, but what I do know is that wool garment triggered it.

I just know what I’d do if I was to do it over again and I can only speak from experience. No matter how much I love 100% wool and how wonderful it looks knitted up, personally I would keep the beauty of it until the child is a little older. There are plenty of alternative yarns for very young babies.

I thought I would share my experience after being a lone voice in a discussion elsewhere – interested to hear other people’s experiences so that maybe we could build up a better picture of the effects of wool on skin and I’m guessing I may get a lot of people disagreeing, but that’s fine – it all helps to build a picture. If you do decide to comment, it would be interesting to state whether you do have any hereditary skin conditions or allergies in your family.

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18 Responses to “Pure wool, eczema and young babies”

  1. Kira says:

    Goodness, what a horrible situation. The sheep suit looks so cute and what a fantastic idea for a baby if knitted in something else maybe?

    I can’t wear wool next to my skin, but the only reaction that I get is itchiness, and I didn’t dress either of mine in wool when they were babies. This was mainly due to living in California, where there were only a few days in the year when thick wool would have been an appropriate outfit!

  2. Liz H says:

    Thanks for this post. I have a 3 month old daughter and it is good to hear this warning. There is severe hayfever in our family, so I’ll be more cautious about using wool next to the skin. So far, she has been fine with wool hats.
    What yarn would you recommend for very young babies?

  3. admin says:

    Thanks for your comment, Liz. I don’t want to be alarmist, just to urge a degree of caution if you have allergies in your family. I’d avoid anything with lanolin, like rustic wool or extra hairiness like angora, and although some say alpaca is non-allergenic because it contains no lanolin, I’d still be cautious because of the hairiness which can irritate. I’d opt instead for something that knits up with a breathable, smooth surface – plant-based yarns such as cotton or bamboo. Then as they get older, move onto the smooth organic merinos and gradually introduce the hairier wools as they get older. That’s just my personal advice and what I’d do – there may be other more medical/scientific theories.

  4. Mezza says:

    Oh your poor daughter! Interestingly, my son had very bad eczema from the age of about 6 months. It was particularly bad when he was a toddler. The treatments through the NHS sounds identical to the ones you had for your daughter and none of them made much difference, not even the steroid cream. Through my own observations I discovered his eczema was linked to his gut health and his emotions. The only 2 atopical “creams” that made the slightest bit of difference were emu oil and PURE lanolin which I had to buy from NZ (part of the bad rep that lanolin has attained in the past was due to the chemicals they used to use to dip the sheep).
    So, people with eczema are not all allergic to lanolin, and in my son’s case the lanolin was an extremely effective treatment.
    Having said that – he cannot wear some kinds of wool because the texture makes his skin itch, even things that feel soft to me he can’t abide next to his skin.
    I’m glad to hear that she can wear your handknits safely now :-)

  5. admin says:

    Oh that is extremely interesting. Sorry to hear you and your son went through it, but that’s fascinating about the lanolin – I didn’t know this and perhaps it will be helpful to someone else reading this. And I agree with you about the emotional link. Thanks so much for posting.

  6. Denise says:

    Eczema is horrendous as we know, but wool is one of the best heat sources for small babies who sometimes find it difficult to maintain their temperatures. With a cotton babygro underneath and away from direct contact with the skin there is nothing more iconic than a beautifully hand knitted Cardigan on a newborn.Perhaps the the lamb suit just exacerbated what was going to happen anyway! A friend of mine was advised to try an antihistamine ( by prescription ) with her babies excema and it cleared up very quickly so it’s always worth a thought!

  7. Rachel says:

    I don’t have children so I can’t speak about babies but am interested myself as a knitter with chronic excema. I always thought I was allergic to lanolin as I can’t use E45 without making my excema much worse but I have just started spinning and not always with well washed fleace, so maybe lanolin is not a problem for me. I’m very relieved that no yarn so far has made my excema worse when knitting. I wouldn’t tolerate much wool when I was a baby which was a shame because mum made me such beautiful handknit cardies. I would tolerate wool dresses with something underneath. I now have less problem wearing wool though if it is rough wool I will have a long cotton tshirt underneath. I funnily find that wearing acrylic jumpers of the style available in lots of clothes shops make my excema flare up much worse than wool but I think that is because it isn’t very breathable. I have knitted newborn baby hats for friends out of wendy bamboo just to be safe though.

  8. Cara says:

    Huge hereditary condition of allergies, asthma and skin sensitivities in my family. I’m from USA and I knit/crochet. Through trial and error — mostly a lot of error — I have found 100% cotton is the only thing that both my children and I can have next to the skin. I love wool, but neither I nor my children can have it directly on the skin. And if I do wear wool, I need to use 100% cotton underneath. I’m itchy just thinking about wool. Most other animal fibers like alpaca also irritate my skin. And not to discriminate against wool – we also have some problems with man-made materials like polyester and acrylic, although not nearly as bad as wool. Bamboo and other plant fibers like linen and hemp are fine on my skin (haven’t tried the children’s skin yet). Indeed – once eczema or allergic dermatitis hits the skin, it’s like an avalanche that has no end. It’s hard to break the itch-scratch cycle, causing a constant damage to the skin. You are not alone with this affliction!

  9. admin says:

    thanks for commenting, Cara. Sorry to hear you’ve been through this too. Good point about the acrylics and man-made fibres – they just aren’t breathable and seem to hold in the heat of the rash. I agree that cotton and bamboo seem to be the least irritating.

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