All of the signs were there right from the start for my newborn, who for the first 3 months would vomit after every breast feed, had thick mucous in his poo and had this rash that I couldn’t seem to get on top of. Of course, I was told he had ring worm… I thought to myself, how the hell is it ring worm? We don’t have any pets; he’s not scraping around in dirt yet. BUT I naively went along, applying anti-fungal cream to him religiously and hot washing clothes, sheets and towels every.single.day for MONTHS. Because being a new mum is just like that, right? Wrong. After seeing a child health nurse, my doctor (multiple times) and finally a pediatrician who said I had a normal healthy growing boy, no one believed me, and I was tared with the new mum brush… you know that one? When the doctor looks down their glasses at you and says, “is this your first child?” But I knew this didn’t feel normal, I had an unsettled and unhappy baby, and I was muddling my way through my first few months of motherhood looking like a tweaked out, sleep deprived creature from the depths. Why does no one tell you about this stuff?
Fast forward to sometime in October, Oscar, the now 7-month-old (still breastfed at this point) who still has a rash and cracked red skin is sat up on the couch with me while I proceed to have a cuppa and some peanut butter toast after arriving back from a 1 week visit in Mackay with my sister. Of course, I was tired and had just unpacked our bags and was in my pjs when the unimaginable happened.
Oscar had started solids at this point, I already knew (in my mum gut) that he had a dairy allergy because he would light up like a flame near any form of dairy, but he had tried peanut butter about 3 times before- I later found out that allergic reactions can occur at any time and often after the third or fourth exposure. Anyway, he looks at me like “give up the goods”, so I let him have a bite of my toast. At this point, I was on the phone with my husband who was away on a domestic deployment with the army, and I said, Oscar’s lips are swelling, so I got a picture and sent it and thought hmm, this doesn’t look right. I hung up the phone immediately and range 000, Oscar was having an anaphylactic reaction. My sweet little boy, he went so quite and flopped next to me while his face began to swell, I tried to stay calm, I had never experienced this, so I was not equipped with antihistamine or an EpiPen (Adrenaline Auto Injector). I watched while his skin all over began to look like burnt blisters, he was so quiet, I will never forget how limp and quiet he went. When the paramedics arrived, they asked, “can you give babies and EpiPen”? “I DON’T KNOW!” was my response. How naïve I was, you can give babies an EpiPen (but it does have to be the correct adrenaline amount, so I highly encourage parents to educate themselves around this or do a First Aid course.
So, there we were in hospital, my son had been given a dose of antihistamine and his reaction eventually settled, I was on my own with no family or my husband near by and trying to perfect my poker face in attempt to keep Oscar calm. In a very short space of time doctors and nurses thrust an EpiPen training video into my hand and I was shown how to use an EpiPen and told that I needed to cut out all nuts and dairy from both mine and Oscar’s diet (as the allergens would pass through to him in my milk) and told that Oscar needed a referral to an immunologist. My response to this was probably quite short as I said, “yes, I know, I’ve been asking for months”. I couldn’t believe that no one had listened, and he had to have this life-threatening experience for us to be taken seriously. Parents, ALWAYS trust your instincts.
As a parent, your mind starts racing as you immediately have to change your family’s whole diet and way of living, and never again can you leave the house without life saving medications and a whole heap of safe snacks. Reading menus and labels becomes your life skill for the safety of your child. The one thing I was very grateful for is my background in Nutrition. I had completed a bachelor’s degree in nutrition before having Oscar, so reading labels and understanding the key nutrients in a range of foods was my jam. So, it was my mission to make sure that Oscar maintained a healthy diet and didn’t miss out on key nutrients (Iron, calcium, healthy fats, protein, zinc, iodine, B group vitamins and fibre). His allergies are Cow’s Milk Protein (CMPA), Peanuts, Pistachios, Cashews and in the early months, multiple naturally occurring chemicals found in some fruits (grapes were the biggest one) and egg. He is now 3 years old, and is not bothered by egg, and we are successfully past the first rung on the milk ladder (allergies parents will know what this is), but we don’t trial peanuts. Managing his food allergies has become second nature and all of our family and friends are aware and highly supportive. He is a very healthy, thriving, growing and very cheeky boy who you wouldn’t pick as having food allergies.
From the first few months of noticing Oscar’s symptoms to sitting in hospital being taught how to use and EpiPen, to then sitting in the immunology clinic watching Oscar have skin prick tests done we were never once guided on how to maintain our nutrition. And I say our nutrition, because I breastfed Oscar until 22 months, so I had to eat what he could eat and visa versa. I wondered, where was the support? Yes, you get told ELIMINATE THESE FOODS, but no one tells you what to replace those foods with, or how to do an elimination diet, or who you can call for questions like that.
This is where Be Well Nutrition was born, as I navigated my way through not only my first time as a mum but also the stress that is associated with having a child (a hungry child) with food allergies. My goal? To be the person you can call on for continuity of care, a mum but also a qualified nutritionist who gets it, a person who can help you build meal plans and figure out food swaps that the whole family can enjoy, a caring health professional who sees you and knows the anxiety you are feeling when others minimise your concerns and also, an educator… someone who can equip you with information so that you can live your daily life knowing that you’ve been given the tools and resources to let your kid just be a kid and safely attend school, birthday parties, family dinners and even meals at home. I also like to share as much information as I can for mums/parents trying to manage their children’s allergies and intolerances. You can access my free 7 day dairy free breakfast recipes here if you are a CMPA parent otherwise, come and join in on the fun and follow along over here on my Instagram page.
From a mum to a mum… feeding a toddler is hard enough, we don’t need to sit down and write a meal plan that includes tofu and kale to increase your child’s iron or calcium, sure these are extremely nutrient dense foods, but c’mon, does that sound practical? Do we not want to find safe, healthy alternatives that are also convenient to prepare or to grab on the run? Sometimes I think this can be extremely over complicated and overwhelming, but it IS possible to find ways that your child can grow, be nourished and thrive so that they can learn, play, grow and just be a kid.