Some babies have allergic reactions to foods. This is why it’s highly recommended that when weaning a baby, you introduce allergens in small amounts and one by one so that you can watch for reactions. Most babies will not have an allergic reaction and of the ones who do, most cases are not severe. But for the parents of the 1 in 5 children who do end up in the emergency department when weaning a baby with allergies, food can be a scary rather than exciting thing. Carlie’s baby has allergies which meant that within her first few weeks of weaning, she was dialling 999. Here she talks about what it’s really like weaning a baby with allergies and now, being ‘allergy parents’.
Read the NHS’ comprehensive list of allergens and how to introduce them to a weaning baby here.
For most parents, weaning your baby is an exciting milestone. Watching them try your favourite foods for the first time is a memory that will last a lifetime (and the comedy facial expressions will no doubt grace many parents’ camera rolls). But for allergy parents, like me, weaning quickly became something that filled me with fear.
I went into the weaning process with excitement and, if I’m honest, a little bit of trepidation. Armed with all the must-read recipe books, I was vaguely aware that allergies could crop up, especially for babies with eczema like Noah, but I was more concerned with the dangers of choking. A couple of weeks into pureeing vegetables and we were starting to find our groove so I decided to try six-month-old Noah with peanut butter.
I’ll never forget his first taste but for all the wrong reasons. After one tiny bite he seemed okay but after another he quickly let out a terrified scream and, to my horror, seemed to stop breathing. I quickly picked him up and started patting him on the back while my husband frantically dialled 999. Thankfully, he started crying and his breathing returned to normal but we noticed his eye swelling and his face becoming red so we rushed him to A&E. The NHS staff were amazing and quickly diagnosed a probable peanut allergy. Although I thought Noah had stopped breathing, the doctors advised that his airways were clear so it was classed as a ‘mild’ reaction; it could’ve been shock which caused him to hold his breath for a heart-stoppingly scary moment. They gave him a dose of antihistamines to ease the facial swelling, epi pens were prescribed and we were allowed to return home.
Fast forward a few weeks and we tried Noah with a baby biscuit containing milk, eggs and wheat. Shortly after eating it, he started rubbing his face furiously and broke out in hives all over his face and neck. Luckily, we had our prescribed Piriton on hand and were able to treat this episode at home but the experience left me shaken once again. How many allergies were we dealing with here?
I spent the next few weeks in a whirlwind of late night googling ‘baby has allergies’, checking packaging and avoiding any and every allergen out there. We felt helpless and had nowhere to turn. Poor Noah was eating the same three vegetables on rotation so I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and needed a definitive answer. The NHS waiting list for an allergy consultation in our area was over nine months long (Noah’s life one-and-a-half times over again!) and with my husband and I having no idea how wide-ranging his allergies were, we were fortunate enough that we were able to go private. Noah was seen a couple of weeks later for a skin prick test and an igE blood test at Great Ormond Street where it was confirmed that he is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, wheat, oats, milk and egg. Our journey as allergy parents had begun.
Despite food allergies among children being on the rise, I was shocked to find that there was so little information available to allergy parents. From why allergies present themselves in the first place to the fact that one mild reaction to a certain food on one occasion could turn into life threatening anaphylaxis on another, it was a minefield.
After Noah’s diagnosis, I found myself feeling even more isolated. Little everyday tasks suddenly turned into a huge deal. For example, introducing new foods to Noah requires military-precision planning; we need to find time when both myself and my husband are home and we can have our allergy action plan to hand. I have to explain to my mum friends that I can’t join them for a coffee after baby sensory because I need to prepare Noah’s food at home (I can’t rely on pouches or pre-packaged snack foods) and would be frantically wiping down every surface before he touches, for fear that peanut dust might be lurking. As a mother breastfeeding a baby with allergies, I also had to change my diet; we’re now strictly a nut-free household.
Moving forward, there’s also the worry of childcare – will nursery settings be sensitive to Noah’s allergies? Will well-meaning grandparents follow strict instructions on what he can and can’t eat? As he grows up, will Noah be able to go to parties and enjoy birthday celebrations or play dates without fear of eating something he can’t have? Will he ever be able to know the simple pleasure of ice-cream on a warm day? Then there’s travel. As travel lovers, we thrive on visiting new places but will Noah be able to experience the world in the same way, without being ruled by his allergies? Will he be able to board a plane without fear of having an airborne reaction or eat out in foreign countries where there may be a language barrier surrounding ingredients and menus?
There are still so many unanswered questions but for now, we are taking it one step at a time. It’s a long and complicated road ahead but Noah is a happy, healthy little boy who loves the food he can eat, and we are hopeful he may grow out of some of his allergies in time.
For any other allergy parents in the same boat, you’re not alone. I’ve found Allergy UK invaluable as a resource and they also have a brilliant helpline dedicated to providing advice or information. There is also a wealth of Facebook groups and Instagram accounts for every allergy out there – from peanuts to CMPA – detailing everything from go-to restaurants and safe food products to allergy-friendly hotels. We’ve also found our dietitian incredibly helpful as she hand-holds us through the food introduction process. New research is being carried out all the time so I hope one day for a world free from allergies but until then, it’s so important to keep the discourse flowing to help people understand the dangers of allergies and how to navigate the ups and downs of weaning an allergy baby.
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