I really put the effort in with weaning our first born; like everything else in those first, sleep-deprived months of her life, I tried my best. I spoke to new mum pals about it, I went to a seminar, I bought books, I borrowed books, I read blog posts and pureed root vegetables until my kitchen resembled a playgroup at pick-up time. Throughout this, it started to become apparent that our daughter wasn’t enjoying the process. I mean, sure, she’d hold a chicken drumstick and throw veg all over the floor like she was supposed to, but she wasn’t physically swallowing anything or appearing to enjoy it.
I’d – utterly foolishly – thought that when she hit that magical six month landmark that she’d sit with her head held up, I’d wean her off the boob and she’d, eventually, eat with us. Oh, how I laugh at this image now! I feel like a total idiot even typing it. I realise now that I didn’t need books or any of that crap, what I needed was to acknowledge that my daughter wasn’t like every child that you find in a book (obviously) and that she just wasn’t that interested or ready to move straight onto solid food.
It was during this (trying) process that it became apparent she was extremely sensitive to certain foods. One summer lunchtime at home, she developed a red rash around her mouth, over her hands and arms after ‘eating’ a cherry tomato. She had a similar reaction at my mother in law’s house on another occasion so I rang the GP, who prescribed her some anti-histamine. Then there was the time that she tried pureed cauliflower (gross, I know, but I was following the sodding book and trying to keep up with friends, who seemed to be swimming through the process and dropping milk feeds along with it) and spent all evening projectile vomiting.
The projectile vomiting is something that I don’t think you realise is possible until you experience it! Wow, it was full on. I felt so demoralised; I’d spent ages prepping food for her, only to have to carry on breast feeding (she refused to drink from a bottle until she was 14 months old) and then get covered in my own breast milk when she threw it all up again. Bad times. And then, one fateful Saturday morning, the journey to realisation began.
It was a typical Saturday morning for her, us, when she was nine months old. I fed her in our bed and my husband went downstairs to get our coffee and toast. So far, so normal. I enjoyed my jam on toast in the chair by the window and he ate his peanut butter on toast in bed. He gave her a piece of crust from his toast to suck on, as toast seemed to be something that she would have a good go at. However, rather than drooling with it and eventually throwing it on the floor like all of the other mornings, it quickly became clear that something wasn’t right.
From nowhere, she started to cry. Really cry. That crying shriek that you know, as a parent, means that something is wrong. I picked her up and her eyes were streaming. Her face was red and she just kept crying. From nowhere, she started to throw up, projectile vomiting all over me and my nightclothes. I soothed her, as anyone would, and then she started to have explosive diarrhoea. “Was there peanut butter on the bread you gave her?” I asked my husband. He replied that no there wasn’t, he gave her a piece of the crust that was plain. Suddenly, her face blew up. It’s the only way I can describe it. Think Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka. It blew up and her eyes started to look like they were disappearing into her face.
Instantly, we rang 999 and they sent an ambulance, instructing us to give her a dose of the antihistamine that we had from her earlier, milder reactions. Luckily, it eased the symptoms and she started to whimper more than cry so that, by the time they got there, she was upset rather than utterly distraught. Her face and arms, however, were still really inflamed, but their advice and swift treatment had made a huge difference.
To cut a very long story of appointments short, we eventually had her IgE levels tested and met with the Consultant Paediatric Immunologist who confirmed that she has food allergies. The main one is nuts (peanuts and a list of other nuts), as well as eggs. Dairy featured in there, too, so up went my Mum Guilt levels about trying to wean her off the boob and onto cow’s milk. It was a lot to get our heads around, to be honest. On the one hand it was a huge relief to have the information and be armed with the knowledge of what she could and couldn’t eat. But, on the other hand, I just felt really sad for her; sad for the food that she wouldn’t get to enjoy and sad for the hassle that it might present to her throughout her life. I wanted to take it all and have the allergies myself . . . I guess that’s a classic parental feeling.
What felt strange was that there are no food allergies in either mine or my husband’s family. The consultant explained, however, that because I have asthma, eczema and hay fever and my husband has hay fever, that this trinity is one of the main genetic reasons that children develop food allergies. (Cue more guilt!). He explained that it is very possible for her to grow out of her food allergies – and we are now on a programme of introducing one food type at a time, carefully, on an annual review to measure her levels – but that peanut allergy is grown out of by only 1 in 5 people. We are trying to stay positive and hope that she’s in the lucky 20%. Yearly blood tests will tell us how she’s going, as her IgE levels will be reviewed. We can only keep our fingers crossed at the minute.
So, going forward, we are now expecting baby number two in January and I can’t help but wonder if this baby will have food allergies, too. I am fully aware that food allergies are manageable and pale into insignificance when considered against some of the challenges that a lot of parents and children face but, I guess for us, they are something that we are learning to live with.
Each birthday party, nursery menu, playdate and café trip are analysed and considered. It’s difficult not to get frustrated with people who seem to forget what nuts are and ask inane questions about what she can and can’t eat (“Can she have marzipan?” – No, it’s got almonds in it; “can she have mixed seed bread?” – No, . . .!; “But she doesn’t need an Epipen so it can’t be that bad…” – Argh! I find it really tiresome, can you tell?!).
My advice to any new parent about to start the weaning process would be this: take it at your baby’s pace; do not read the books or listen to what your mum friends’ children are doing; ignore well-meaning people’s opinions, deflect their questions and, most importantly, pay attention to any unusual reactions and be prepared to speak to your GP if there’s anything you’re unsure of.
A Guest Blog from Natalia Sanders
Natalia is a mama from south Gloucestershire, who blogs about her current house renovations and motherhood. She has a one year old girl, Rose, and baby number two is due in January. She taught English for ten years but decided to become a full-time mama at the end of her maternity leave. When not being a full-time mama, she can be found with her head in a book, yacking away on Instagram stories or enjoying copious amounts of Sauvignon Blanc (pre-pregnancy, of course!). You can read her blog or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
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