* I am not a medical doctor. If you have medical questions or concerns please contact your doctor directly.
Looking back to when my first daughter, Sara was born I can see where there were early signs of food allergies for myself. Sara was born with no complications but a long labor and she arrived at 9 pounds 5 ounces!
The first month I was exclusively breastfeeding and began to notice dots of red in her diaper which increased over the next month. I was frantic! why was she bleeding internally? What could be wrong? I worked with her pediatrician about possible causes. It was recommended that I eliminate dairy, egg and wheat. I was told I was not breaking down the food properly and so it was upsetting her young digestive system. There were no clear explanations as to why this was occurring. Unfortunately, her bleeding did not stop even after eliminating 6 food groups from my diet. My doctor and pediatrician were both worried that my diet had become too limited. The fear was there were not full of enough vital nutrients that both my daughter and I needed to be healthy. I was told the best option was to switch to formula. I was beside myself with worry and only wanted the best for her. I switched to a soy formula and thankfully she did well on the formula and the bleeding stopped. The topic of food allergies or testing never came up for either of us. It was merely “one of those things that can happen and digestive systems are sensitive in infancy and hopefully will pass with age. Sara never developed food allergies but is lactose intolerant.
A little over a year later, I became pregnant with my second daughter, Caroline. It was a complicated pregnancy with a hospitalization due to a bad case of the flu and weeks of modified bed rest. Thankfully she arrived on her due date a healthy baby girl at 8 pounds 6 ounces. Right away in the hospital, she had periods of time of crying and was gassy. Given my past history with my first daughter, I was instructed not breastfeed and to start with soy formula to avoid any digestive issues I had with Sara.
I followed the doctors’ orders and we went through weeks of Caroline crying, gassy, throwing up and reflux. Holding my baby while she pulled up her little legs up into her tummy and cried in pain was gut wrenching. There were times at 2am we would both be crying from exhaustion. I went into full research mode and went through every formula on the market shelves. Again, never were food allergies brought up in any of my many doctor and specialist visits. Finally, we went to a special drugstore to buy Neocate Formula. She did so much better on Neocate and I was so relieved.
We delayed introducing solids by a few more weeks to give her system more time to develop. She was not a fan of food or formula. It as a struggle to get here to eat enough to meet her weight goals. Caroline was eventually diagnosed with food allergies to eggs and shellfish.
I was around this time I was diagnosed with adult onset food allergies and everything started to make more sense. I now had a diagnosis that explained my issues with trying to breastfeed and Carolines’ reactions. Thoughts raced through my head…Had I caused her food allergies? Was there something I could have done differently for both of my girls if I had known about food allergies? I had mom guilt that I could have caused my babies any pain.
I had these beautiful miracles and I wanted to protect them in every way possible. I had to become educated about food allergies and how to keep our family safe. Food allergies were not widely discussed at this time and awareness was low in my community. I embarked on my own food allergy journey of discovery. I did a ton of research, asked a lot of questions to doctors, friends and family.
This leads me to the questions I had then and are still the hot topic questions today especially for raising a baby in a world where food allergies are ever increasing:
- Is there anything specific I should know when breastfeeding my child in terms of food allergies?
- Is there a diet recommended to help avoid a child from developing food allergies?
- What may make a child more likely to develop food allergies?
- What might be early signs of a food allergy?
- How can I keep my baby safe is they are diagnosed with food allergies?
The top 8 allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Sesame gaining numbers to possibly become the 9th allergen. As of the writing of this blog post, it is recommended that a mother who is breastfeeding eat a varied diet full of nutritious food. If you do not have food allergies whether breastfeeding or not, it is best not to avoid any particular food groups.
Introducing one new food at a time for at least 3-5 days makes it easier to identify any adverse reactions. If your child has a severe reaction especially anaphylaxis it is important to administer an auto-injector of epinephrine quickly and call 911.
If you notice new symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, reflux, hives, eczema, rashes, change in the tone/type of cry, throwing up or swelling it could be an allergic reaction to a new food. Make note of the new food, the amount, the timing and severity of the reactions. Contact your doctor to review your information and the best way to proceed. I personally stopped any new food I had introduced if one of my daughters had an adverse reaction. I wanted to err on the safe side.
There have been studies for those babies who are at a higher risk for a peanut or egg allergy. The high-risk category for food allergies encompasses those who have a primary relative with a food allergy, if the baby has eczema or asthma.
In a reversal of earlier policy, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending that potential allergens be introduced to your infant earlier rather than later. The AAP now advises that, in the case of infants who are at high risk of allergies, peanuts should be introduced between 4-6 months. Infants at highest risk of developing peanut allergies are those with eczema or egg allergies or both. It was originally believed that introducing your baby to the foods when she is older might make any reactions more manageable. It is worth noting there have not been additional studies published yet for the additional categories of food allergens. You know your baby best and are their number one advocate.
If your child has had an allergic reaction, avoid giving them that food again and take them to an allergist for testing. It is important to work with your doctor to keep your baby safe. There will be guidelines to follow in terms of how much to of a potential food introduce, when to introduce it and how to keep detailed and accurate records.
It was through trial and error that I realized all products both food and personal could cause a reaction. Both of my girls had skin sensitivities to lotions, wipes, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, diaper cream, soaps, and bubbles for baths. It never even occurred to me that baby body products could elicit a reaction. Half the names I had to look up to figure out what they actual were in plain English. I spent a lot of time being a label detective and adopted a slow and steady approach.
I thought baby=hypoallergenic and no worries right? Nope. I understood what the term hypoallergenic was supposed to mean but I was learning that I could not assume a product was 100% allergen free. Allergen friendly, free from some allergens, free from a lot of allergens were all welcome sight but I still had to be vigilant about every ingredient. It was especially frustrating when I was trying to treat a raw rash on my girls and the cream I would use would actually make it worse! I had a policy that when I found a cream, soap, diapers and wipes that were safe, I would buy them in bulk. I knew I would go through a lot of them, I had checked all the ingredients and now I had a stockpile. I would have some in my home, in the car, the diaper bag(s) and at their grandparents’ house.
Whether food allergens in skin-care products can contribute to the development of food allergy is somewhat of an unknown. It has been shown that atopic dermatitis is a risk factor for developing food allergies. If your baby does have dermatitis look at the ingredients for any oils or creams you may want to use to soothe their skin. You want to avoid any of your babies allergens and many allergists will recommend against the use of skin-care products containing nut oils.
If your baby or you have a diagnosed food allergy strict avoidance is the course of action to follow. You need to have your medications and especially an auto injector of epinephrine to use in case of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. One reaction is not indicative of the severity of the next reaction. This is why it is so important that you have a written emergency plan for family, friends and sitters to be able to clearly follow. They make auto-injectors to use for an individual starting at 16 pounds. It can be scary to be faced with a baby needing to have to have an injection. Understand and take confidence that the auto-injector it is a life saving measure for your child that needs to be administered quickly once anaphylactic symptoms begin and then call 911.
Having a baby changes your world and add to that food allergies and it can seem overwhelming at times. Take heart that working with your doctor, using resources such as Food Allergy Wizards and creating a circle of emotional support will help create a smoother path on this magical journey.
I will be speaking about this blog post which you can find on Facebook under Food Allergy Wizards. I would love to hear your personal stories and comments. We are as strong as our community!
You got this! Welcome to Parenthood!