I am privileged to be the mother of three lovely boys, all of whom are in great health.
This has only been the case since my eldest son Angus was diagnosed with a severe allergy to dairy products and my middle son, Robin with an intolerance to gluten.
We were sure Angus was allergic to milk when we tried to give him a bottle of formula milk at three months old. He became very agitated and developed a red rash around his mouth each time the bottle touched his lips.
I continued to breast feed Angus and at six months the health visitor suggested I give him milky snacks as she believed he was underweight. Babies often grow out of allergies and it was possible that he would no longer react to dairy products so I decided to follow her recommendation. Within seconds of spooning the first mouthful into Angus's mouth, he became clearly very irritated by the yoghurt, smearing it around his face. Everywhere the yoghurt touched his skin became red and swollen and his breath laboured. I rushed him to our doctor who treated him with antihistamine and by washing the allergen off his skin. This was a terrifying experience and it confirmed our fears. On further testing it was clear Angus was severely allergic to dairy products to the extent that even skin contact with milk would trigger a reaction.
Although this was a blow, we could manage the situation and were relieved we had become aware of his allergy so early on and before an even more dangerous situation had arisen.
It was different with our second son. Robin had been a very happy baby but when weaned onto solids, failed to grow and thrive. We were already keeping him off dairy milk on the doctor's recommendation due to his brother's allergy, but couldn't understand why he was always so tearful, cold and tired. His skin was very dry and he increasingly suffered from diarrhoea after meals. Aged two he stopped eating cake, biscuits and other wheat based foods that all his friends adored. Aged three, he would lie on his tummy after meals including pasta and bread, complaining his tummy hurt. This was usually followed by a rushed trip to the loo.
With this increase in symptoms it became clear to me that he was unable to tolerate foods containing wheat and possibly gluten. On the doctor's recommendation we eliminated gluten from his diet and within a week we saw signs of improvement to his health. Robin told me he didn't feel sick anymore, he put on 2kg in two months. His skin became softer, his energy returned and he no longer required the loo after every meal. He was a different boy!
Seven years later both boys continue to follow their restricted diets. Angus no longer reacts to dairy on contact but becomes violently ill if he mistakenly eats food containing even the smallest trace of dairy. Robin still suffers terrible tummy and stomach pain if he eats anything containing gluten. We are used to our regime, make the most of all the foods we can eat and in some ways our diet as a family is probably healthier than it might otherwise be without cream, cheese, pastries, cakes and other fattening treats.
Doctors are becoming much better at recognising the symptoms of food allergies. And thankfully Genius and other companies are making it much easier for parents to give their children yummy gluten-free foods.
Food allergies in young children are not uncommon. But children and obviously babies and toddlers will struggle to articulate their woes if they have a food allergy. There remains a danger that young children who appear to be fussy eaters, may actually have a food allergy and the only way in which they can manifest their discomfort is to throw what appears to be an unwarranted tantrum.
Symptoms of food allergies may be obvious, but often they are much more subtle. I am not a doctor and I am not here to offer medical advice. But as a parent of children with food allergies, all I would recommend is to bear in mind the fact that diet can have a profound impact on the wellbeing of our young ones. Any parent with a child who has suspected food allergy needs to know that help is out there and if anyone reading this would like more detail of my experience then they only have to get in touch with me through the Genius website.