Starting solid foods with your child is always a stressful time because you don’t know if they have any allergies and if they do, how severe those allergies are. My husband and I were careful with my son because I have so many allergies, but he was lucky enough to avoid any so far. Now that we have started feeding the girls solid foods, we have had to start the process all over again where you feed your child a food they have never had and hope that they don’t have an allergic reaction. Unfortunately, we have had a couple cases of mild allergic reactions with the twins and are still trying to find out exactly what they are allergic to. Here are some tips and things to look out for when starting your child on solid foods and looking for food allergies.
Allergy or Intolerance?
It is important to know the difference between an allergy and a food intolerance intolerance (which include sensitivities) when we talk about food reactions in children. An allergy is when the immune system is involved whereas an intolerance is a toxic response your body performs when it is met with something that does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance’s include being lactose intolerant or celiac (gluten intolerant). This is where your body does not possess the means to digest certain foods which may lead to very distinct symptoms such as gas and gatric upset in lactose intolerance. It is important to know that with lots of foods, you can build up and lose tolerance to them. Think of hot sauce. When your first start eating spicy foods you may be only able to tolerate very little amounts of hot sauce but as your tolerance grows you may be able to have spicier and spicier hot sauces. This can happen with milk, gluten, red meats ect…. So lots of times when people say they can’t have gluten it is because they haven’t built a tolerance up to eat it, versus celiac disease which is a total gluten intolerance where they cannot build up a tolerance to it. For most total food intolerances, you need to be seen by a doctor to be diagnosed.
Now, with allergies, the immune system is involved. This means that the body notices a foreign object and treats it as a threat and does what the body does best and attacks it. This attacking is what causes allergic reactions. Usually the body goes way overboard, which causes allergies to be a big deal. If only the body knew that peanut butter is good and full of protein. But instead, for lots of people, it thinks it is a dire threat to its functioning. This immune response is the redness, swelling, itchiness and behavioral symptoms that we know and expect from an allergy.
I think that it is important to be ready for allergic reactions before they occur. Make sure you have a bottle of Benadryl in your medicine cabinet. That should help get rid of the allergic reaction. If, on the off chance your child has an anaphylactic reaction, give them the Benadryl and call 911. It will buy your child a little extra time before the ambulance gets there.
Know the Signs
There are many different ways an allergic reaction can occur. If you know the signs, it is easier to react if an allergic reaction does happen.
This can be seen from rashes such as hives, flushed cheeks, or generalized redness all over your child. Both girls have gotten this redness, and it usually shows exactly where the food was on their faces.
I have a wonderful story about when I was a child, visiting the ocean with my family. While at the beach, I found a GIANT mountain of clam shells and, like any normal child, decided to climb it. A few minutes later, my parents found me stripping off ALL my clothes in an attempt to get the best surface area for my itching. I can say I put on quite a show, which my parents found both equally horrifying and hilarious.
In many cases, swelling can occur. Your child’s face or other extremities may swell up, including cheeks, hands, or the face. If the lips, tongue or throat swell, look at anaphylaxis.
This can be scary, as no parent wants to see their child’s face swell like a balloon. If you think there might be swelling, give them Benadryl. I made the mistake of putting my daughter Marie down for a nap after I thought she might be swelling, hoping she might sleep it off, and woke up with a very swollen and sad baby. Never again.
In some cases, a child can experience a behavioral reaction. This can be seen by your child being cranky (throwing temper tantrums, acting unlike themselves) or hyper active.
As I had many allergies as a child, I can also add a nice story to this one. I’ve been told that I was a very good natured, easy going child growing up. One day my parents left me with my Nana and a huge flat of strawberries. One of those giant boxes. I had strawberries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between. Little did my family know, I was allergic to strawberries. My poor grandmother. She had no idea why her happy-go-lucky grandchild had suddenly become a devil child. I am ashamed to say I am the only one out of 15 grandchildren to have been spanked by my Nana. All because of strawberries.
This is an acute life threatening overreaction the body takes against an allergen. Symptoms usually appear right away and progressively get worse over minutes to hours. The classic symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction are throat or tongue swelling, lightheadedness, vomiting and shortness of breath. The most important things are anything that involves the airway or breathing. If your child has any facial, throat or tongue swelling you should try to get into an emergency room quickly. Usually that means calling 911. Ambulances can treat your child on the way which may be the difference in saving their life. When a child is having shortness of breath this is also an emergency it may mean that your child’s airways are swelling, making it harder and harder to breath. If you aren’t sure, call 911 anyway. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
An Allergy! Now what?
Allergies can come and go at any point in your life. You can go 50 years without having an allergy then one day you put on you take a pill you have been taking for the past 20 years and boom you have an allergic reaction. It is also important to know that allergies can be progressive. That means that most of the time when you are exposed multiple times to the same allergen and you have a reaction that allergy may subsequently get worse and worse.
Lots of times it is very hard to identify what caused an allergy with you or your child. This may take some detective work as a parent. This is one of the reasons that health Canada recommends introducing one new food a day. When your child has an allergic reaction you have to go through everything because there are innumerable things they could of had that reaction. Was it a new brand of Jam, different soap, new formulation of washing detergent. Lots of times you will have no idea what caused it and that is OK. We, as parents aren’t Sherlock Holmes and we can’t be expected to hide our children from everything in the world. Creating a bubble child will cause way more problems then good.
The Canadian pediatric society has stated that “Delaying dietary exposure to potential allergens like peanuts, fish or eggs will not reduce your child’s risk of developing a food allergy” This means that you can give your 8 month old peanut butter, eggs, and other high risk allergens. You DO NOT have to wait until they are two. There have been quite a few recent studies that have stated that delaying such foods or exposures (in all regards from food to contact with dirty environments) can actually be detrimental to kids developing immune system and cause a higher chance for developing allergies. The CPS states that once a new food is introduced, it is important to continue giving it to your child to maintain your child’s tolerance. The Canadian Pediatric society also states “We also don’t recommend avoiding milk, egg, peanut or other foods while pregnant or breastfeeding”. So, no need to worry moms! Have as much fried eggs and PB and J sandwiches that you want.
Children with parents or siblings that have food allergies, asthma, allergic runny noses, or atopic dermatitis (if you don’t know what this is you or your children don’t have it) are at a much higher risk or getting allergies. If your child is high risk, you can still give your child higher risk foods, but that is up to your comfort level, if you are worried I would recommend talking with your baby’s doctor.
Now, if your child has an allergy, that is ok. It is really quite common. Based on their allergy, the next step is how you should move forward. If your child is anaphylactic to something, it is a good idea to not have it in the house. Depending on the severity, which you and your child will figure out, you will know how sensitive the allergy is and how stringent you have to be on avoiding that allergen. If they only get some hives or itchiness, that is no reason for you to ban it from your household. You just have to be careful about not serving it to your child. Just because they have an allergy that you don’t have, does not mean you are forbidden to never have that food again. If you are uncomfortable with eating that food in front of you child, just eat it at work, or at night or on dates.
Allergies are very common, and just remember to be prepared! Benadryl is key.
Good luck! And may the odds be ever in your favor…