Friday, April 20, 2012

Parenting a child with food allergies: Part 1, There's Something Wrong

I stared at a title and blank screen for several minutes contemplating the enormity of it all. Part of me wants to say it wasn't really that big of a deal, that we were lucky enough to be able to handle it while accepting more risk than others. The other part of me wants to jump straight to the fear of that first allergic reaction, or the months spent waiting for a diagnosis, the startlingly long list of allergens, and then the frustration that still comes with each allergic reaction. I guess with all stories you just start at the beginning and then try to come to some conclusion.

Our breastfeeding relationship got off to a rough start, and only continued due to my perseverance (if I do say so myself).  The first few days were spent with the both of us sobbing, but I never gave in, and we made it with a nipple shield. It never got easy until after the first year. So many times he would refuse to nurse, and I'd have no idea why. When he was a few months old the constipation started. He would grunt and groan as if he were straining to go during almost every feeding. It wasn't unusual for him to go ten days, and it was painful when he'd go.  That's ten days of grunting and straining without producing. Our pediatrician always said it was normal. He'd say some babies just had trouble learning how to poo. I felt like something was wrong, but it didn't seem like reflux and I didn't known of anything else that it could be. The sad thing about it was he was such a content baby. He never cried except for when he was in pain, but he was in pain a few times every day. We jokingly called it his 'tummy trouble' and held him through it. I even remember telling people I thought something was wrong, and they offered typical suggestions. Nobody ever suggested allergies. And does it sound like he had food allergies to you? I feel guilty about it, but the fact is he didn't have any obvious symptoms. My content, never cries baby suffered almost every day of almost the entire first year of his life because I didn't know he had food allergies.

We found out at 10 months.

My 10 month old baby
At nine months DH and I took DS in for a regular checkup. Again we mentioned the tummy troubles, again we were told some babies just have trouble going. We'd been cruising along at the 20-25th percentile for weight, but this time we'd dropped down to the 15th. The doc suggested we start adding whole milk yogurt and as many healthy fats as possible.  Enh, he seemed fine to me.  He was happy, healthy, and had fat rolls. I didn't really think he was too skinny, and although he did enjoy a puree of squash or sweet potatoes, he really wasn't that into eating solids yet. It took me a month to get around to buying yogurt for him to try, and we tried it.

We should have taken him to the hospital. If I'd known then what I know now, we would have. That very first reaction still stands as the worst he's ever had. DH fed him the yogurt for about 2 minutes, and then asked me, "how do I know if he's allergic?" I said, "I don't know, I guess swelling or hives." I saw him look under ds's chin and jump up, "he's having a reaction."  I became so filled with panic at those words I became lethargic. I was so focused on not panicking, I wasn't able to do anything except not panic. I had DH wash his face, and I slowly, slowly looked for children's benedryl. We didn't know if he was old enough to take it, and to this day I still don't know why we had it. Why would we have a new, unopened bottle of children's benedryl?  Had to have been fate, because our baby was in trouble and really needed it. His face was blood red, and absolutely covered in hives. There were hives on top of hives. I really can't describe it enough for you to visualize, but there was no tiny millimeter of skin that was not covered. Even more worrisome, his cheeks and lips were very swollen. We guessed at the dosage, and held our breath. The hives began to fade very slowly and the swelling didn't get worse. He nursed to sleep.  I put him down in the pack n play next to the couch and checked on him every ten minutes into the night. When he awoke to nurse 5hrs later, he really seemed back to normal except for a touch of swelling. Though never as severe, this became his typical reaction. Facial hives/Facial swelling.

Though not the blogger at this time, I felt it was important to take pictures to show our lackadaisical pediatrician.

Only the larger hives showed up on this pic. There are thousands of smaller hives in between them.
Taken with my cell after we put him in PJ's and nursed him to sleep. Many of the hives are gone, but red face and swelling remained.

We didn't take him to the pediatrician right away. My husband was trying to get a new business started, and we had another checkup in less than two months. We knew he had a milk allergy, and it was a lot for me to deal with. I avoided milk and all his tummy troubles resolved. Easy as that. A simple dietary change on my part that could have prevented months of pain for him. When I cried it was not because he had a health problem, it was because I had known something was wrong and he suffered because I didn't act. When we finally went back for his 12 month checkup, I showed the pictures. "WHOA!" said the pediatrician, "That's quite a reaction! A lot of kids have milk allergies, but that...that's quite a reaction." Believe it or not, he went on to tell me an allergist wasn't necessary, he was probably only allergic to milk, and he'd grow out of it shortly. Oh, if only that were true.

Continued in Part 2: Mom of the Allergic Child.

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