I struggled with whether to write this post, and how to write it, and whether to post this picture.
I’ve decided to do so because it’s part of my motherhood journey, a road that has all kinds of hooks and turns and rocky patches.
But this picture tears at my heart.
It’s of my baby girl at two months old, struggling with food allergies—specifically, food in my breastmilk that she was allergic to. I had no idea that the collection of red bumps and scars, facial swelling, and the blood in her diaper were from the food I was eating.
Food allergies in babies and toddlers feel like an unexpected whammy. The very food you provide to nourish their growth and health may actually be harming them on the inside. And the process of discovering what’s wrong with them can take months and years of trial, error, and frustration.
We discovered food allergies were the cause of her skin issues over the course of several months, as her pediatrician instructed me to do an elimination diet, removing foods that might be in my breastmilk that could be triggering the flairs. Dairy was the first to go.
I started to substitute dairy products with other foods– soy sausage, soy milk, almond milk, soy cheese — YUCK!
The bumps and redness would fade for a few days, and then flair up again.
Goodbye soy everything. Goodbye almond milk. My healthy go-to snack of trail mix with almonds, nuts and cranberries — Gone.
But the flare ups persisted—for months. I started to lose weight as my diet dwindled to fruit, vegetables and meat. Thankfully, my milk supply stayed robust. But my little girl’s face would become bumpy and scaly out of nowhere, seemingly overnight.
When she turned about six months, the situation got a little better as she started eating more solid foods. Bananas seemed fine. Rice didn’t give her a reaction. And she never seemed opposed to the pureed peas and corn and veggies she ate.
But the bumps never totally went away. The flare ups on her legs, feet, and in the creases of her knees and elbows turned black and left scars. Her pediatrician diagnosed eczema, prescribed steroid creams, and asked me if I was really eliminating products from my diet that could be harming her. I had to hold my tongue a few times because I was working so hard to find acceptable things to eat.
Finally, as my baby turned a year old, we decided to do allergy testing.
That test revealed she had a soy-peanut-tree-nut-dairy-egg-lemon-cantaloupe-pineapple allergy.
Seriously. Cantaloupe too?
The testing felt like a setback rather than a revelation. Because I knew the hard work I had put into breastfeeding and eliminating foods and products from my diet. But these allergies felt like whammies. What could she possibly eat? Would they ever go away? Would she need to carry an epi-pen forever?
At this point, I made a decision that I would later regret. I decide to keep breastfeeding.
In my mind, it’s like I needed to protect her from all these evil foods that made her face turn red with bumps and scars. I kept thinking I should just double down on breastfeeding for another six months and see if that helps. What other milk could she drink?
So I kept breastfeeding her until she was 18 months. My decision to stop at 18 months came after the slow realization that her face was in fact clearing up because she was eating more solid foods— AND LESS BREAST MILK.
By the time she weaned—in March 2017— I was totally depleted energy-wise from a diet of only meat and vegetables. My milk supply still never suffered but she was getting the best of my dwindling youth. I was sick for several months after she officially weaned as my body struggled to recover. My hair continued to thin as if I had just given birth. My nails would bend and split just from buttoning a shirt.
Nearly a year later, she’s a vibrant two-year-old with more energy and fire than ever. A second round of allergy testing when she turned two revealed that most of those allergies were gone. The list of forbidden foods had dwindled to just dairy, eggs, and cashews.
I nearly shouted for joy the first time I could just pour her a bowl of honey nut cheerios with almond milk—oatmeal with fruit had been her go-to breakfast every day.
Feeding my baby girl is still not a casual undertaking—a diet without dairy means it’s hard to eat out and home-cooked meals are the safest bet. There’s no let’s-pop-some-pizza in the oven tonight. Chipotle with no cheese or sour cream in her bowl is about as casual as we can get.
We’ve been able to control her outbreaks better though. She still has occasional flares when she sneaks a slice of her brother’s pizza or she gets ahold of some chicken nuggets with breading that includes eggs.
And there’s a fair amount of screaming and general food envy as she begins to notice that her plate looks different from ours.
But after two years of trial and error in feeding my baby, there’s a lot less error. That makes her a happy baby and me a happy mama.
Does your family struggle with food allergies? Please share your story in the comments below.