How I Became an Allergy Mom

Food Allergies Starting Solids Toddler Feeding

My 13-month-old daughter was recently diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies. Here’s our story.

One of the first things friends and family ask when I mention Baby L’s recently diagnosed allergies is how we found out. My head is still reeling from all this, but I’ll do my best to share it here, too.

Because of my work as a family health dietitian, I’m well-informed on the latest guidelines that urge parents to introduce potentially allergenic foods early and often in their babies’ diets. I discuss this in my baby-led weaning classes and I even wrote a blog post about allergy prevention when the new guidelines came out in early 2017. I was pregnant with Baby L at the time and regularly eating nuts and other top allergens in my own diet, which has also been shown to help with allergy prevention.

Baby L’s three-year-old sister doesn’t have any allergies and there are none in my or my husband’s immediate families, so I had no reason to think that Baby L would develop them herself. I first offered her peanut butter right around the six-month mark. Although we were doing baby-led weaning, I mixed some into oatmeal and let her suck it off a spoon to make sure she ingested some.

Shortly after the above photo was taken, her cheeks and chin became red wherever the mixture had come into contact with her skin. I was alarmed, but she had had similar contact irritation reactions from other foods including banana and avocado, so I followed my own advice and looked for signs of a possible allergy – hives, vomiting, swelling, trouble breathing – with my infant Benadryl on standby. Nothing else happened and the redness soon faded away, so we went on to enjoy the rest of our day.

I continued to offer her peanut butter from then on, although I’ll admit that doing so always made me a little anxious because it continued to turn her skin red at times. However, other foods continued to cause redness, too, so I discussed it with her pediatrician and we determined that she probably just has sensitive skin.

Fast forward about six months to when Baby L was now over a year old. Like I often did, I spread a little peanut butter on some bread and offered it to her for breakfast. I soon noticed what appeared to be hives on the back of her neck. I’ve never personally had hives and neither has my toddler, so I actually wasn’t sure if that’s really what it was! I snapped a (blurry) picture for our pediatrician and kept an eye on Baby L. The hives faded in about an hour and Baby L had no other reaction. But I refrained from giving her any more peanut butter and discussed it with our pediatrician the following week. Our doctor ordered a blood test for IgE antibodies, which came back positive (albeit on the low end of the range) for peanut allergy. She was not tested for tree nuts at the time.

(By the way, when your baby has blood drawn, you get to sit in a special chair and pin her down with your own body while she hollers. Fun.)

We were instructed to book an appointment with an allergist affiliated with our pediatrician’s office for a skin test. This was in July and their first availability was in early October. In the meantime, I picked up some cashew butter to replace our usual peanut butter. A nut-free option like Sunbutter or Wow Butter might have been a better idea, but at the time I didn’t have any reason to suspect that she also had a tree nut allergy.

About a week after her blood test, I made my toddler a cashew butter sandwich. I hadn’t fed any tree nuts to Baby L herself since the initial peanut hive episode, but I absentmindedly picked her up without washing my hands after making the sandwich. We soon noticed hives all over her body. They were even in the shape of my hand! We were on vacation at the time (talk about a mood killer) but I had thankfully remembered to pack some infant Benadryl. Her hives quickly cleared up after a dose. Not wanting to wait until October, I started researching other pediatric allergists in our area and made an appointment for two weeks later.

That brings us up to last Friday, when she had her skin test. I was really hopeful leading up to the appointment because her blood test for peanut allergy had been so low, but the results were not good. She reacted to peanuts and all tree nuts (that largest hive is walnuts). In a blur, I was instructed to avoid all nuts, given instructions on using an Epi-Pen alternative called Auvi-Q, and told to return in a year.

So now I’m an allergy mom. And my precious baby girl, who LOVES food (thanks, baby-led weaning!) will likely need to be cautious of everything she eats for the rest of her life. We don’t know how severe her allergies are yet. She has thankfully never had a respiratory reaction, but I know that past reactions don’t predict future ones.

If you’re still reading at this point, I want to point out that this post has been about the facts. Stay tuned for a follow-up post about the emotions. Thanks for reading.

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