People say your life changes when you have kids, and boy, are they right!  One challenge that we face on a daily basis is how to cope with Caleb’s food allergies. Even though Caleb is only just over a year, I have quite a bit to say on this topic, having had some experience with food allergies my whole life.   People who’ve never dealt with food allergies sometimes don’t really “get it”, which is completely normal.  I’m writing because I want to share how I dealt with finding out about Caleb’s allergies, as well as maybe give some tips that I’ve found to be helpful.

What some people don’t know is that there is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity.  A true allergy has symptoms like swelling, hives, itching, rashes, and difficulty breathing (due to swelling).  In some cases, eating a food you are allergic to could lead to death.  Food sensitivities will usually cause reactions like intestinal problems (diarrhea, cramping), headaches, fatigue, or irritability.  Eating a food you are sensitive to may not kill you, but the more you eat of this product, the worse you will feel.  Also, babies have very sensitive tummies, so sometimes they will be more sensitive or allergic at the beginning, but later outgrow it.  **An interesting fact that I learned in doing research on allergies is that sometimes people crave what they are allergic or sensitive to, which makes this all the more confusing…I hope this isn’t why I crave chocolate all the time!!!

When I was a kid, one of the things that was not allowed in our house was peanut butter.  Even though I didn’t (and don’t) have any known food allergies, my mom wasn’t so lucky.  One of the worst things she is allergic to is peanut butter.  For a long time, I felt annoyed with my mom because we couldn’t even have it in the house.  Her allergy is so severe that even the smell of it would trigger allergic reactions.  I still remember the day she came home with an epi pen and showed us how to use it.  I think that was the first time I realized my mom could die from eating something with peanut in it.  Scary.

Fast forward to four weeks after I had Caleb.  I was hanging out with my friend when I changed his diaper and noticed that his body was extremely inflamed, red and rashy!  I got worried right away, and called my mom.  She suggested that he was perhaps allergic to something that I ate, confirming the fear that had been lurking in the back of my mind.  This may sound gross to a non-parent, but you can really learn a lot from looking at a baby’s poop.  Even though Caleb was going at regular intervals, he was extremely gassy (which I had incorrectly attributed to being my husband’s son :)), and his poop was really slimy and green-not at all like the mustardish stools you’re supposed to see from a breastfed infant.  At this point, I freaked out and decided I needed to eliminate some food from my diet.

Caleb's Eczema

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any medical direction or know what I was doing, so after two days of trying to eat no wheat, soy, nut or dairy products (including chocolate), I was seriously discouraged.  Crying to my mom, I decided just to move forward with the elimination of dairy, peanut, and strawberries, because I had eaten a bunch the day Caleb got so rashy.  Did I do this well?  Not really.  I was so accustomed to eating foods with dairy in them (bread, sauces, cheese, yogurt) that it was difficult to do.  Because I was so inconsistent during this time, I didn’t really see any improvements, and Caleb’s skin continued to look terrible.  Finally, at two months, we took him in for a check-up, where I discovered a few things.  First, my doctor said Caleb has eczema.  Bummer.  Second, when she described symptoms of children who have a dairy allergy, she pretty much described Caleb-, green, mucousy poo, or even blood in the stools (luckily I’d seen no blood).  So, now to seriously eliminate dairy from my diet.  Because I had a little more direction, I got a little better at this point.  It took about 2-3 weeks of not eating ANY dairy, but finally I started to see results-Caleb’s poop started to look less slimy and his eczema started to clear.

It was those first months that were the most difficult.  Because so much of what I did at the beginning was guessing, I was never really sure of anything.    I still avoided eating nuts (because of my mom), chocolate (because most of it has milk in it anyway), and all dairy. I should also mention here that I limited eggs somewhat as well, only because I had a bad feeling about them and Caleb.  Dairy was the most difficult, because it is in everything (even taco seasoning, did you know?!).  I felt sorry for myself (why do I have to get the child with allergies?), and I also felt guilty-for feeling sorry for myself and guilty for the times when I just couldn’t avoid the dairy.  Sometimes we’d be out and all the food available had some form of dairy in it.  What could I do?  I could have not eaten it and gone hungry, risked offending the cook, or even end up explaining why and making them feel bad about it.  So I just ate it, and Caleb’s eczema  flared up again.  I felt like a bad mom for “cheating”, or not being strong enough, but I did take a little comfort in the fact that I was still breastfeeding, hoping that this would help Caleb more than anything.

I breastfed Caleb until about 13 months, when I weaned him, and I kept this “diet” up until this point.  It got easier with time, because I started finding things I could eat that didn’t seem to be a problem for him-soymilk, for one, and marshmallows when I was feeling like a dessert but couldn’t eat anything around.   I found a soy yogurt that was tolerable, but skipped the soy ice cream because it tasted so bad to me.  I missed a lot of fats, so my diet actually took a turn for the worse in some ways…I was constantly scouring the ingredients in those little powdered donuts or little debbie snack cakes, looking for ones that had no dairy in them…not much luck by the way.  I started eating french fries at McDonald’s again, which I’m not proud to say, but I did what I could.

If I were to meet a new mom who suspects her baby has allergies, I would first say to her, trust your instincts.  I had no evidence to support my feeling that Caleb was allergic to eggs, but when we got him tested at a year and found out that he was, in fact, allergic, I was grateful that I went with my gut and delayed feeding egg to him until after we tested for it.  Second, get some help.  I needed the advice and direction from a doctor (first to calm my irrational fears and to help me sort out the real symptoms and possible causes), the support of my husband and friends, and the information I could find on the internet.  Third, have grace with yourself.  Do what you can.  If you can breastfeed for a long time, great.  If not, it’s okay.   If you can avoid eating a certain food 6 days out of 7, great!  Even a little bit of sacrifice helped my baby.  Lastly, hang in there.  The hardest part is the first few weeks while you try to adjust.  Then, usually, you find out some more information and might be able to relax a bit.  Also, though your diet will never go completely back to what it was before ,you may get to eat ice cream again!  Yes!  Reward yourself at the end.  My husband took me out for ice cream after I weaned Caleb and I got a double scoop. 🙂

This post was pretty much about me.  My next post will be about how we found out about  the rest of Caleb’s allergies, and things I do that help everyone deal with his allergy.