Struggling with postpartum eczema

I didn’t really notice that I had an eczema problem until my newborn son was about a month old. I only was vaguely aware that as each day went by I lost more dexterity in my fingers and the pain grew, but I hadn’t slept much or eaten much.  When my son went to the emergency room with a staph infection and we spent a week in a quarantine room in Children’s Hospital I was preoccupied, but in the rare peaceful moments in that semi-dark room with all of the humming machines, when my baby wasn’t crying in pain and the doctors and their scary words like “cancer” and “white blood cell enzyme disorder” were off with other patients I would notice that my hands were itchy and hot.  It wasn’t until we were home from the hospital and starting to fall into a rhythm of new parent life that I went to open the door to our bedroom one morning and realized that I couldn’t grasp the doorknob because my fingers were bright red, swollen to twice their normal size, and slashed at all of the joints with deep purple cracks that oozed blood.

That was 18 months ago.  Today I am typing my first blog post in over a month because for the first time in several weeks I have fingertips that are not bleeding.  I still don’t have all of my fingerprints back yet and my thumbnail on my right hand is still threatening to fall off where the eczema has crawled down into my nail bed.  I could have written about this months ago but I avoid the topic because I don’t know how to make this long story short, and I don’t know how to organize my thoughts. The topic is deeply emotional for me.

Severe eczema is ugly, visible and contagious-looking. The red, scaly skin and open wounds spread from my hands, up my arms, to my face and mouth and eventually my eyes. Although it has been constant for 18 months, “flare ups”, where my symptoms get noticeably worse, come and go.  Sometimes, after a particularly stressful week I  develop something called dishidrotic eczema, where my skin will boil with large blisters filled with brown fluid that feel like cold sores.  They are are so painful that if anything touches them I can’t keep myself from crying. For weeks I would sob every time I had to wash my hands after changing Søren’s diaper because water and soap sting and burn like fire on my raw skin.  For months I dreaded any situation where I had to shake someone’s hand (like my first post-baby job interview), grasp a fork (I’m right handed, but I had to eat with my left sometimes, depending on which hand was in more pain), or touch food or animals (even touching the unbroken skin of a tomato would cause an angry red and itching flare up).

As I mentioned I also have this on my face, which kicked off a horrible cycle of anxiety and depression, which in turn caused the itching and inflammation to increase. Sometimes my eyes were so red and swollen and scaly that I wouldn’t leave the house. The eczema is not only around my eyes but also under my eyelids, so my eyes were bloodshot. It is inside my ears too.

I’m not here to complain, I am writing this to offer encouragement.  Through the slow and aggravating process of misdiagnosis and treatment I struggled to find other women who experienced the same problem. Dermatologists only met my questions about postpartum hormone changes as a possible cause with blank stares and rehearsed lectures about keeping my hands out of water and not scratching. No one really seemed to understand what I was saying: that this was not a problem before I had a kid, and it was starting to have extremely scary  consequences for me and my family.  If you are a mom experiencing the same thing trust me, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

More on this tomorrow.

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5 thoughts on “Struggling with postpartum eczema

  1. Thank you so much for your blog post.I, too, developed severe eczema with my second child. It is so stressful and really takes a toll on the body physically and emotionally. I’m glad there is someone who has the courage to share their experiences. I’m so glad it’s not contagious though. I want to breastfeed this baby, but the eczema is too much. Be strong momma and other eczema sufferers.

  2. Could I email you for advise? My second baby just turned 1 and with that I have officially had to stop wearing any make up or nail polish, taking hot showers, or anything else that may aggravate a dry skin condition I have had for almost a year post partum. It’s limited to around my eyes, and I think it’s eczema, but due to our nation’s wonderful healthcare system, I haven’t been able to see a doctor for it.

  3. I am so sorry you’ve been in pain 😦 I can’t really give advice because I’m not a doctor, but here are a few things that I found helpful, and I think that this applies if you do or don’t have eczema. First of all, if you have two babies and they are young, and you’re not able to see a doctor, I’m going to guess that you might be a little stressed. The first thing my dermatologist told me to do was find a way to stress less. That seemed impossible, but when I was able to get some help with my son and take some time to rest (sleep, see friends, take a walk, etc.), things did start to clear up on my face. These last few weeks I’ve been under an incredible amount of stress again, and guess what? My eczema has reappeared around my right eye 😦 That is my body telling me that it’s time to find ways to be nicer to myself. Another thing you may want to try is using unscented laundry soap, especially on your bedding. Fragrances could be aggravating the issue. I also noticed that the eczema would get worse when I had red wine.

    Ultimately, you need to see a good dermatologist, although that may not be possible right now. Just hang in there! One-year-olds are tough, mothering is tough, trying to keep up with the crazy pace of modern life is tough, and remembering to take care of yourself is the toughest.

  4. I had PUPPP after my first baby was born. My second was born this past Christmas and the eczema this time around in addition to the PUPPP is BRUTAL. I shied away from babywearing because his warm little cheek against my chest made me so itchy. The winter weather doesn’t help matters. I’ve found some good balms and creams that don’t make my skin feel like it’s burning off (The Honest Company Organic Healing Balm is saving my sanity!). This past week was tough as I got hit with the worst yeast infection in the history of the world. I almost went to the hospital from the pain being so bad! So my face/body skin took the back burner while I concentrated on healing my lady-bits. I went to see the doctor and showed him some of my eczema sores, there was one very close to my eye which was worrying. My husband scared me, saying it could be shingles. But apparently it’s eczema. It’s in my ears as well! I didn’t think eczema could do that. As if the post-partum period isn’t stressful enough… We have to remember to be kind to ourselves. Which is difficult with children to run around after.

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