I wasn’t prepared for my baby to have food allergies.
When it was time to start solids with my first son, I had done a bit of reading and research into the best approach for introducing food. I read Super Nutrition for Babies, and happened across a Motherlode piece called “Trusting a Baby to Know How to Eat,” which was my introduction to baby-led weaning. Sure, I thought, all good stuff.
My pediatrician gave us an encouraging green light at the six-month well baby visit. She told us that unless we had a family history of food allergies in kids (we didn’t), the new recommendation is to introduce common allergens before one year of age to help prevent the development of allergies. Yes, even peanut butter. She didn’t even seem that worried about the one food at a time suggestion.
I felt empowered to really get going with solids and decided I would lean toward baby led weaning with the super nutrition for babies approach of whole, nourishing foods.
Right after the six month appointment we went to my parents for the weekend. There I gave O a little nosh of egg yolk, some smoked salmon, and potatoes. He did fine the first day, but by the next morning he had hives. My parents also had two giant, Great Pyrenees rescue dogs, so I figured maybe the dogs, maybe the food. I decided I wasn’t going to give him egg again though at least for a while.
A few weeks later we flew to California to surprise my husband’s brother for his birthday and join them on a trip arranged by his wife up to the Russian River Valley. We almost didn’t make it at all. O had been having really severe diarrhea and on-and-off fevers for about three weeks prior. We had to have a blood test to check his hydration levels and stool studies to make sure he didn’t have something severe. They couldn’t find anything, so we went.
Once back in San Francisco, we enjoyed ourselves as tourists. We spent a morning at Alcatraz, snacking on almonds on the ferry. We went to the Embarcadero for lunch, and back near the Castro grabbed croissants and other treats at Thorough Bread and Pastry, which we ate later for dinner. We had pre-dinner dollar oysters and then headed back to the apartment.
My husband was holding our shirtless baby when I noticed the hives. I started to panic as his entire chest, stomach and chin turned red and puffy. My quick thinking sister in law told me to take a picture, wait ten minutes, and see if it was getting better or worse.
We called the doctor when we got home and I brought him in. I told her what happened, and that we had determined that my husband hadn’t washed his hands after the oysters. She wasn’t worried until I showed her the picture. She immediately told me not to feed him any of the big eight allergens and schedule a consultation with an allergist immediately.
At about seven months, we began our relationship with an allergist.
We’ve done so many skin tests, blood tests, and food challenges.
Some doctors won’t do testing on infants as young as ours. The results can change, and sometimes their little bodies don’t make enough IgE, the blood marker of an immune-response to an allergen, to diagnose the allergy. But when you have a reason to test, it can be helpful.
We tested for the basics, the things that could have been that San Francisco reaction, and the things most commonly eaten in our house. Our initial skin positives included soy, eggs, almond, pistachio and dogs. Following blood work, we decided to do a food challenge for soy as that came back negative, but peanut and milk came back as positive. We also saw that the highest IgE number was to eggs. It was likely that the croissants we were eating, not the oysters, had caused the hives.
As my son got older, we had scary moments where he would touch something that had come into contact with eggs. My husband kissed his back one time after breakfast and he erupted in hives. We were armed with an Epipen Junior and instructed to carry Benadryl with us at all times. We’ve never had to use the Epipen, but we’ve used a lot of Benadryl.
It was challenging to explain the allergies to other people. I barely understood what was happening myself.
It’s really hard to explain a milk allergy to someone. The first thing they say is a well meaning and totally misguided comment about being lactose intolerant. A milk protein allergy is not the same as being lactose intolerant. One will make you fart while the other causes hives, facial swelling, gastrointestinal distress, vomiting and even anaphylaxis. It’s not the lactose in milk that a person with a true milk allergy reacts to, it’s the milk protein itself.
I was nursing and had to change my diet. It was trial and error. I discovered that I could still eat dairy and while my son was rashy, he was thriving. Eggs and nuts had to go. It was a bummer, but my baby who hadn’t slept for more than three hours at a stretch his entire life began sleeping longer stretches at eight months.
Fortunately, egg and milk are common in babies and generally outgrown as the kid gets older. We’ve gone from my son breaking out in hives and getting facial swelling when he’s touched with an Annie’s Cheddar Bunny to being able to take a sip of milk and not have an issue. He can tolerate baked egg, but we had to test that in the office in another food challenge. We need to go back for further testing to see where we are with everything else, but I’ve been busy with the baby and haven’t been able to make that happen.
This week we head back to the allergist to find out the results of my infant’s blood tests. I’m still hoping that we won’t have to go through more years of dealing with allergies, but if we do, I’m much more prepared then I was the first time.