When you think of food allergies, I bet one of the first things that comes to mind is “PEANUTS!” Up until I had children of my own, that is exactly what I thought of whenever I heard about food allergies or EpiPens.
I gave birth to my first child, a son, in July of 2015. My husband and I were so excited to finally have a child of our own, and I was very passionate about breastfeeding. Our baby arrived three weeks early and from the get-go he was full of surprises.
I had a difficult time breastfeeding (thank goodness for my breast pump), and my son had a hard time gaining weight due to the astronomical amount of times he spit up. His pediatrician told us he may have a dairy intolerance and asked us to bring a stool sample to be tested. The results came back negative, and he was diagnosed with acid reflux at his one month well visit.
I continued to breastfeed, and I also decided to eliminate dairy from my own diet to see if that helped at all. And it did! He was thriving and nursing so much better within a few weeks. Plus, I was able to quickly get rid of the baby weight I had gained. Seemed like a win/win situation.
Fast forward to when he was 7 months old, my niece, who was 13 months at the time, wanted to share her yogurt with her cousin. He barely tasted it, and I received a frantic call from my sister saying that he was very swollen all over and had red hives. I ran out of work and called his pediatrician immediately. Thankfully, the swelling went down, and he was back to being a happy baby after some Benadryl.
The next day we were seen by his pediatrician. She ordered blood work and tested him for dairy allergies. We received a call later that night stating what we had suspected – he had a severe food allergy to dairy and all dairy products. Suddenly, it all made sense… what appeared to be reflux was actually a dairy food allergy. He would spit up so much in the first few weeks of life because his little body was rejecting my breastmilk that had dairy traces in it.
So of course, as any parent would, I started doing some research. We brought him to an allergist, and they confirmed many food allergies by a skin test: dairy, any dairy products, peanuts, all tree nuts, sesame, and sunflower. Already feeling defeated from the dairy diagnosis, I felt even worse because we had used almond milk instead of cow’s milk to wean him off breastmilk at 13 months.
This is when the real challenge began. I had to read and re-read all food labels and educate myself on what the key words were to avoid. Suddenly, anything that was easy to cook or a quick snack I could grab for him were out of the question. No yogurt, no cheese, nothing with butter, no peanut butter sandwiches, which translated to no granola bars and pretty much any food that was prepared by anyone else but me. Going out to eat was impossible and terrifying!
Having learned so much in my journey, I would like to share some facts1 about food allergies:
- What exactly is a food allergy? A food allergy is when your body’s immune system reacts to a food protein because it has mistaken that food protein as a threat. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.
- You can have an allergy to literally ANY type of food, but there are 8 top food allergens:
1). Milk (cow’s milk)
6). Tree nut
9). Sesame (quickly becoming the unofficial 9th allergy)
- There are 32 million Americans with food allergies, 6 million of those people are children.
- Some children may outgrow allergies such as milk, egg, wheat, and soy, but peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish are usually lifelong.
- There are two types of allergy testing: skin test and blood work.
One aspect I am thrilled about is that allergy friendly foods are a lot more accessible now, even from just 5 years ago. By the time I had my daughter in 2017, it was much easier to manage her allergies due to all the options that became mainstream after she was born.
Here are some of my go-to brands for top 8 allergens:
Whether your child has allergies or not, I hope my experience can help you understand the challenges, as well as some tips to overcome those challenges. No matter what, moms will do just about anything for their children’s safety and well-being, even if it means pushing yourself to your culinary limits!
1 Source: www.foodallergy.org
Written by Connie Gregorio, human resources specialist at Acelleron and mom of 2 food allergy kids.