Allergies have been on my mind every day for the last three years. As it is World Allergy Week, I am going to try to write our allergy story. I know this is going to be very emotional for me so I am breaking it up into parts for my own sanity. Will you come along with me?
My baby is born
When my precious daughter was born (after a 48-hour long labour), my every thought was consumed with keeping this little human alive. The first time I breastfed my daughter, my mom was there helping me maneuver my body so that she would learn to latch. The first nappy change required the hands of two nervous parents and a very stoic hospital nurse. Those first three days in the hospital are obviously a bit of a blur, but I slept, she slept; I ate, she ate. We survived and then we came home…
Is this normal?
I was starving all the time. For a breastfeeding mom recovering from pregnancy, this is supposedly normal. I ate a lot. But my precious daughter was miserable all the time. She was always uncomfortable and seemed really crampy. My baby girl could only sleep upright in my arms and I could not put her down after a feed as everything would come back up. She had terrible cradle cap and baby acne. I never had a baby before so I had no idea if this was normal. I googled and everything I read explained my little person was getting used to a new environment and all this was normal. So we persisted and did everything we could to help her settle into the world.
One week old and my cousins came over for dinner to meet my precious daughter. I remember this evening so clearly. We shared a delicious meal. I felt a bit more human to be surrounded by grown-up people having grown-up conversations. I ate a whole bowl of ice cream for dessert. When my daughter woke for her next feed about 3 hours later, I fed her in the upright position we had mastered. And then the nightmare began. My daughter did not sleep for the next 9 hours. She cried. She threw up. I tried to fed her again. I tried to calm her down. Nothing worked. Exhausted, I knew in my gut that this wasn’t normal. I felt powerless. My daughter was in agony and I could do nothing.
Sensitivities to food
After my mom came over the next morning and I had some sleep, I googled all of my daughter’s supposed normal fussiness symptoms and found this article by Kelly Mom. Light-bulb moment: my daughter was sensitive to what I was eating and reacting by being fussy after feedings, crying for long periods inconsolably, sleeping badly, waking up with discomfort, frequent vomiting and spitting up, permanent running nose, dry skin, rashes, irritability, constipation and diarrhea…. Dairy was the obvious culprit so I cut it out. I missed dairy but I felt so guilty: I felt like I did this to my baby. I ate dairy which went in my milk which went into her body which made her sick. It took about a week for the dairy to be out of my milk and she showed some improvement in her behaviour and health. But it was only some improvement.
Cutting out dairy was only the beginning. I began to notice relationships between certain food and certain symptoms. If I ate maize, it would be in more milk in about 3 hours. Once she breastfed, the maize milk would turn my baby into a hyper-baby! No sleep and way too much energy. So I cut out maize. Wheat would make her lethargic and constipated. No more gluten. Every time I cut something out, she would turn into a happier, more settled baby. But the cradle cap and baby acne remained. She was always itchy and scratched herself. The itchiness always messed with her sleep and mood.
The clinic sister at my weekly weighs-ins told me my baby’s fussiness was normal. She thought I was crazy to be cutting out any food and did not believe me when I explained my baby’s obvious reactions to certain foods. While a small percentage of breastfeeding mothers notice an obvious change in their baby when they eat certain foods, it is supposedly uncommon. Breastfeeding moms are encouraged to eat everything as not all babies are sensitive to food.
I considered stopping breastfeeding. It was so hard to monitor everything I ate all the time. I was still starving all the time but my list of foods to eat was getting smaller and smaller. My mom told me to call La Leche League of South Africa and I spoke to a leader who directed me to this article. I decided to keep breastfeeding exclusively. Breastfeeding reduces food allergies and all the formulas I could find in SA had maize in them anyway. We were going to do this. We were going to work out what my daughter has reacting to and eliminate it from my diet.
Coming up with an allergy plan
I could not wait until the 6 week check-up to see my paediatrician. It look my paed one minute to diagnose eczema. She fully backed my elimination diet. She encouraged me to continue exclusively breastfeeding as long as possible. We also worked out that I needed to cut out egg and nuts. We set a date to take blood for an allergy test. I left her office with an allergy prevention plan for my baby girl:
- Eliminate foods from breastfeeding mom’s diet that leads to an obvious reaction in breastfed baby (for us, we eliminated the most common allergens: cow’s milk products, soy, wheat, corn, eggs, fish, and nuts)
- Keep a food diary to monitor what breastfeeding mom is eating and any reactions in breastfed baby’s behaviour or health (reactions may only show up 4-24 hours after exposure)
- Try to introduce new foods one at a time in breastfeeding mom’s diet and see if breastfed baby has the same severe reaction as before. If no reaction occurs, slowly reintroduce the food back into mom’s diet (we could reintroduce soy and fish in the first 6 months as her reaction to these foods disappeared!)
- Get medical help and support (as much as I didn’t want to medicate my baby girl, she needed medication to help her manage her allergy symptoms)
This is only the beginning of our allergy story
Remembering those first 3 months of my daughter’s life in the world is really hard for me. She felt irritable in her own skin, crampy, could never get enough sleep, her tummy ached… My poor baby girl. I felt confused, exhausted, powerless and guilty as I just couldn’t understand what was wrong with my baby. What really helped me was when people could tell me my baby’s reactions weren’t normal. There was something more going on. I was lucky enough to find people so early on who directed me to answers and plans that gave me a sense of control over allergies. And it was the fierce love that I had for my daughter from the moment I found out I was pregnant that has meant I would do anything to make her life easier.