I am a mum of two beautiful children, Amelia (2 years) and William (7 months). I am allergic to tree nuts and my husband was allergic to eggs as a child, so it’s no surprise that our children also have allergies.
Our allergy journey began when Amelia was just a few months old. She was a happy baby, always smiling and initially everything seemed normal. As time went on I started to notice her skin drying out and she developed eczema. She also had severe baby acne and terrible cradle cap. When she was 7 weeks old I gave her a once off bottle of formula (she was exclusively breastfed) and two days later her eczema flared. She had dreadful red, cracked skin across her forehead and on her body. The doctor said it was the worst skin she’d seen on such a young baby. During this appointment Amelia had a poo explosion! Sure babies do that from time to time but this was different. It was frothy and green and so explosive that it shot from her nappy and splattered on the floor. The doctor also said she’d never seen a baby do that before but there were no questions or follow up as to what was upsetting her tummy. Being a first time parent I never questioned this and just assumed her tummy wasn’t used to formula.
We were referred to a paediatric dermatologist for her eczema who initially suggested a dust mite allergy was the cause. We put measures in place to remove dust mite from our house which helped Amelia’s skin, but she still had eczema patches on her face that would not disappear. Before we returned to the dermatologist for a follow up appointment my mum gut told me there were allergies at play. Not only was there eczema, but Amelia would spew constantly. Straight after a feed, 2 hours after, when she was due for the next feed, it seemed like she was always vomiting. She also continued to have explosive, mucousy nappies. I mentioned these symptoms numerous times with various health professionals, but because she was a happy baby my concerns were dismissed. I found a fantastic allergy group for breastfeeding mums on Facebook and after some further research I was certain Amelia was reacting to foods through my breastmilk.
Our next visit to the dermatologist confirmed my suspicions. Facial eczema is often caused by food allergy so we were sent for allergy testing. Before she was tested I cut egg from my diet and within a week her facial eczema disappeared. I then stopped eating dairy as I was fairly certain it was an issue. By the time Amelia had her first SPT (skin prick test) she was 5 months old. It was confirmed that she was allergic to dairy, eggs, soy, and peanuts. Two months later when we saw an allergist further testing showed allergies to hazelnuts, horses, dogs and grass. I immediately stopped eating the foods Amelia was allergic to and it was then that I realised how hard it would be for her to eat out. Amelia’s symptoms improved but I mentally couldn’t breastfeed any longer. I found it incredibly difficult to follow my new restricted diet and the constant worry that I would eat something that would cause Amelia harm was too much. At 8 months old Amelia was weaned onto an elemental formula for babies with allergies.
When Amelia was 18 months old we had a review with her allergist where an SPT showed her soy allergy was not as severe. She passed her soy challenge which meant she had grown out of it. Unfortunately her other allergies were still present and quite severe. There’s still a chance that she will grow out of them but in the mean time we carry our Telfast and Epipen everywhere we go.
Birthday parties and family outings became quite stressful. I was that mum who would fly across the room to stop her baby from sucking on another kids drink bottle or toy. Not because I was a germaphobe, but because the cross contamination of food could cause her to have an allergic reaction. Public high chairs and trolleys were meticulously cleaned and I became an expert at reading ingredient lists. Over time it has gotten easier. All our family meals are safe for Amelia and now that she is older she understands that she can’t eat certain foods. I am lucky that I have amazing family and friends who accommodate Amelia’ dietary requirements. At Christmas my mum made sure that all the food was safe, every single thing. I also have a friend who is making her daughter’s birthday party egg, dairy and nut free. How amazing is that! Our day care centre is also fantastic and have implemented a great menu so that Amelia and other children with allergies are catered for.
We had hoped that William would be different and be allergy free. He started to develop the same symptoms as Amelia so I went down the elimination diet route again and started cutting foods. My understanding of food alternatives made it a lot easier the second time around. At 4 months he had an SPT which showed no common allergies, but that was no guarantee that he wouldn’t develop allergies later. I have been introducing foods with no problem, until a few weeks ago when he had an allergic reaction to a Heinz chicken and corn puree. Then a week or so later he had a reaction to a vegemite sandwich. We went back to the allergist and the SPT revealed allergies to wheat, soy and yeast. I had hoped that if William had allergies they would be the same as Amelia’s but unfortunately this was not the case. I am now cooking family meals that are free from wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts, soy and yeast, which is no easy feat! I have already found many products and alternatives and I know from experience that it will get easier over time.
Since our journey began I have learnt a lot. Allergies in young children are very common, a lot more than I initially thought. So are the number of women who go through dietary eliminations whilst breastfeeding their babies. These women are often overlooked, their actions are questioned, and eating out for them becomes somewhat of a nightmare, but they do it because they know they are doing what’s best for their baby. I have learnt a lot about food, where it comes from, how it’s manufactured and the lack of education surrounding these. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told a food was safe for Amelia just because it was labelled gluten free. Most importantly I have learnt to trust my gut. People have always said “mothers know best” and it’s true. A doctor may have a university degree and countless years of experience, but no one knows a child better than their own mother.