Image Credit: Lyndsay Edwards (Living With CMPA)
Being an allergy mum is a whole new world, I'm not even sure I knew being an 'allergy mum' was a thing before I became one which is kinda crazy considering my brother is allergic to almonds which my mum discovered when he was around ten years old. So allergies aren't exactly new to our family but my brother reacted with a rash which calmed down and then disappeared fully with some anti-histamines so it wasn't really 'a big deal' or so we thought. He was advised to avoid nuts and did so with no reactions until he was 30 years old, but then that reaction at age 30 was anaphylaxis meaning his airways started to close and it was life threatening. He now carry's an epipen with him 'just in case' he accidentally comes in to contact with nuts and has another life threatening allergic reaction. When my son was born in 2013 he was poorly and I didn't know why, all of his symptoms such as colic, rash, back arching, reflux, sickness, diarrhea, blood in his stools, refusing feeds etc can be diagnosed as individual problems but when baby has all of these symptoms together it can point towards an allergy. Getting my son diagnosed was extremely difficult and a lengthy process, it was heartbreaking watching my baby suffer and not being able to do anything about it - I was desperate, emotionally and physically exhausted but I didn't give up! If there's one thing I have learnt about allergy mums it's that they're fighters and we will fight for our children to get them what they need and ensure they don't miss out!
To cut a long story very short, in the early days when my son would scream in agony to the point where his head would turn purple and he'd be pouring with sweat - not to mention the blood all up his back... I did my own research and figured out he has a cow's milk protein allergy. I conducted more research and realised he needed a hydrolyzed formula, I studied the different formulas suitable for a cow's milk protein allergy and went to the children's hospital armed with all of my information - I still had a huge fight on my hands and my son was 9 weeks old by the time I got him the formula he desperately needed but after just 12 hours of being on that formula his symptoms stopped - so yeah 'mum knows best'. Unfortunately my story of struggling to get a diagnosis isn't rare and that's one of the reasons I created my blog, I don't want any allergy parents and allergy baby's to suffer like we did so I put everything I know online to help others. Another reason I started allergy blogging is to raise awareness, so many of us 'allergy mums' have been criticised or on the receiving end of absolute ignorance so more allergy awareness is needed!
Today, I want to share my tips for new allergy mums:
- Keep a food/symptom diary - this will help pin point any trigger foods and be useful to show medical professionals when they ask for more info.
- Take photos of any nappy reactions - yes it's not nice to look at but it may help in getting a diagnosis.
- Videos may also help the medical professionals, it's heartbreaking to watch I know but if you're struggling to get a diagnosis then having video footage of the back arching/refusing feeds etc may help.
- Do your own research and know your rights, when I first arrived at the Children's hospital the assessment nurse said to me "we don't even stock formula so I don't know why you've come here" - I could have left at that point but I politely asked to see a doctor and a few hours later I left with a 400g tin of the formula they didn't stock there!
- Don't give up - your baby needs you and you're the only voice they have.
- Mum knows best - no really you do! You are with your baby 24/7 so YOU know and if you think something isn't right then don't give up and keep pushing doctors.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion - all GP's can't know everything so maybe yours doesn't know about certain allergy symptoms and how to spot a suspected allergy.
- When weaning only introduce one new food at a time and wait at least 3 days before introducing a new food, if baby has an allergic reaction this will make it easier to pin point the trigger food.
- Join an online support group - there are many online support groups now, mine is on Facebook 'Allergy Support Group' we currently have over 2,000 members all supporting each other on their allergy journey's.
- Learn how to cook 'free from' it may take a bit of practice with a few failed attempts but it can be done and you'll surprise yourself at just how many dishes can be adapted to be made allergy friendly.
- Take your time going around the supermarket and don't rush reading ingredient labels.
- Don't assume because a food item was once allergy safe that it still is, manufacturers can change the ingredients at any time so you need to check the ingredient labels every time you purchase.
- Get comfortable in being the awkward customer, if you're anything like me you'll hate making a fuss in restaurants but now you'll have to so get confident in asking lots of questions and quizzing the chef about the food menu to find out what will be suitable. If in doubt - don't eat there !
- Don't let allergies hold you back, your children will grow up and be able to advocate for themselves, they will fully understand their allergies and be confident in avoiding trigger foods.
- Accidents happen so don't beat yourself up about it, we are human and we make mistakes it's just what we do so if you do have a 'slip up' learn from it and carry on, don't waste time mentally punishing yourself for it. Keeping a baby/toddler allergy free is no easy task so slip ups are likely.
- Constantly remind friends and family about your child's allergies, I discovered that people including total strangers LOVE to feed kids - I don't know why but they do so you may need to constantly remind people and never turn your back not even for a second - until the child is older and understands not to accept food unless it's been checked by mummy first.
- Discuss allergies with your child on a regular basis and remind them why they can't eat certain foods, this chat should be a positive one - we don't want our children to feel like they're missing out. I talk about it with my son as just something we do but I never make it a big deal.
- Focus on what your child can have and do rather than what they can't eat.
- Always try and use non food rewards so for example if your child wins at sports day instead of lets go out for food to celebrate - lets go to the cinema as a treat or swimming etc...
- Discuss how fun birthday parties are and talk about them spending time with their friends, playing games etc - don't make it all about the food. Food shouldn't be the focus of a birthday party.
- And finally - easier said than done (I know) but get your emotions in check, children pick up on their parents energy and copy pretty much everything you do so if you're sad about their allergies - they'll be sad about their allergies. If you are cautious but don't let it consume your life then your child will be cautious but not let it consume their whole life.
I hope you have found my tips for new allergy mums helpful, if you're in need of any allergy friendly recipes or shopping lists you can find them over on my blog 'Living With CMPA'.