When my first daughter, Piper, was born, she developed G.I protein allergies, which meant that I had to go an entire year without eating any dairy or soy while I breastfed her. When I was pregnant with my second baby, I joked about the chances of having to limit my diet again, thinking they were slim to none.
I looked forward to being able to order carryout whenever I felt like it, pop a pizza in the oven and eat all those indulgent freezer meals I so carefully prepared in my final trimester in preparation for the exhausting newborn phase. And for the first three months after my daughter Flora was born, I did just that. She was such a good baby, sleeping through the night very early on and rarely crying. We felt so lucky. And I was loving my breastfeeding journey without any dietary restrictions.
Then Flora turned 3 months old, and those dry patches of eczema that I had been trying to cure started covering her body, eyes and face. Within weeks she was a different baby—covered in rashes, constantly swaddled so she couldn’t scratch herself and in and out of the doctor’s office every week. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. I’m a mom blogger and my readers shared every tip and trick for treating eczema. I spent hundreds of dollars on Amazon trying every cream, lotion and ointment on the market. All the doctors we saw said Flora just had bad eczema, but I knew something else was going on. Nothing I tried made any visible change. Then a quick Google search confirmed what I already feared: Many food allergies in infants first show up with severe eczema.
Our allergist quickly confirmed everything I had read online, and told us the chances that Flora had food allergies were pretty high based on how bad her skin was. A full allergy panel confirmed she has dairy, egg, peanut, fish and tree nut allergies. These allergies are different from those that her sister had: Flora’s allergies involve the immune system whereas Piper’s did not. (You can read more about our eczema and food allergy journey here.)
After getting the diagnosis, I felt a sense of relief that we finally knew what was causing her discomfort and that we could begin to treat it—but at the same time, I knew it was just the start of a long journey ahead as an allergy mom.
I continued to breastfeed, and as soon as I cut Flora’s allergens from my diet, her skin began to clear up. It was quite a transformation, and I felt relieved she was no longer so uncomfortable. I often feel guilty complaining about my diet and struggle with her food allergies when there are so many other moms and babies going through much worse, but right now Flora’s allergies are life threatening and anaphylactic. And that is really scary for me. I’m already an anxious mom, so this is panic-inducing at times.
Over the last few months, I’ve become used to the allergen diet. The worst part is having to prepare most of our meals at home. When you’re adjusting to life with two kids, being able to pick up dinner is so nice. The upside is that it’s forced me to eat healthier (for the most part) and as a bonus, I’ve lost all of my baby weight. I’ve even learned where I can get my dairy-, egg-, nut- and fish-free treats! Most dairy-free products on the market right now are made with nuts, but thankfully I can have coconut, which helps to some extent. I think of all of this as practice for how I’ll have to cook for Flora when she’s eating solids. I want her to be able to have a delicious birthday cake and Christmas cookies as she grows up, just like everyone else.
One of the most important things about being on an allergen diet while breastfeeding (that I learned the hard way) is making sure you’re still getting enough calories so your milk supply doesn’t tank. I’d highly suggest working with a nutritionist or your doctor before trying to make any significant diet changes on your own.
Every time I get jealous of someone biting into a big slice of pizza, I remind myself that I’m doing this for my baby, and it always makes me feel a little bit better. People often ask why I didn’t just switch to formula, and can’t understand how I “do it.” For me, formula really wasn’t ever an option I considered. I knew that I could go a year on a restricted diet, just as I was able to for my first daughter, and I wanted to be able to nourish my second with breast milk for as long as I could. I totally understand that not everyone is able to do this, but it was our family’s choice. It just becomes a way of life for a little while.
Now that I’m nearing the end of my breastfeeding journey, I’m not ready for it. It means I have to check baby food labels and call restaurants ahead of time and do everything in my power to be sure Flora’s eating safe food. I can’t keep her safe with just my breast milk any longer. We have an EpiPen that we keep with us at all times, which makes me feel better as we introduce new foods—but it’s still pretty nerve wracking. We’ll be going back to the allergist and getting blood work done in a month to see if she’s a candidate for an in-office food challenge to try baked egg and milk, and we’re hopeful she’ll have outgrown at least a few of her allergies!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this journey with food allergies is to listen to my instinct. You know when something isn’t right with your baby, and no one else will be the same advocate that you are for your child.
Caitlin Kruse joined the blogosphere many moons ago in 2008, chronicling her affordable fashion finds, entertaining ideas, recipes and life post-college with her blog Style Within Reach. Fast forward eight years, Caitlin is now married with two daughters and rebranded her site to focus on her latest passion: motherhood. Check her out at The Mama Notes and follow her on Instagram @themamanotes.
Published May 2019