By Theresa Kingma – I gave up Ben & Jerry’s, white chocolate mochas, and Crème Brulee for my son Evan. I was not trying to be super slim, nor had I converted to veganism. I gave up all foods with dairy and egg proteins in them because I was breastfeeding my son Evan, who was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies.
My dedication to breastfeeding was certainly tested by strictly adhering to his dietary restrictions. Evan was diagnosed with an analyphlactic allergy to dairy and severe allergy to eggs. Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve various areas of the body, such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system. I adore coffee in the morning with dairy creamer and soymilk didn’t give the same flavor enhancement, but I did give it up. I met a woman who couldn’t do without her flavored coffee and switched her baby to the bottle. But I was anxiously devoted to providing the very best possible start for my vulnerable child and believed that only mother’s milk could provide the essential health benefits.
Evan first showed signs of allergy when an immediate blister formed on his forehead where his brother had given him a kiss with milk-tinged lips. At ten months, Evan sucked on an egg noodle and his face swelled up and turned bright red. After testing, I was advised to immediately and indefinitely remove all dairy and egg products from my house, to not trust my son in any daycare situation, and to be hyper vigilant in my efforts to keep him from ingesting any of the offending proteins. If Evan avoided all dairy and egg proteins, then he would have a good chance of outgrowing his allergies.
These instructions flowed so easily from the doctor’s mouth, but have been very difficult to follow. People do not understand food allergies and are often skeptical, if not hostile to our situation. According to Hugh A. Sampson, M.D., Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, food allergies affect about six percent of American children under the age of two and are on the rise . Dairy and eggs top the list of foods that children are allergic to and correspondingly also comprise a majority’s share of today’s American diet. And therein lies our struggle: eating and living within a dairy obsessed culture.
The Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies, by Marianne S. Barber , states that a true allergic reaction is an immune system response. An allergic person has increased amounts of IgE, a type of antibody, that over responds to the offending allergen as if the body is under attack. Allergic reactions include at least one of the following symptoms: hives, swollen mucus membranes, asthma, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food intolerances may cause discomfort, but does not involve the immune system. The cure for a food allergy is complete avoidance of the offending proteins. This can be quite a prescription for the mothers of active, curious toddlers who do not comprehend anything much beyond exploration.
Dr. Maryanne Bartoszek Scott, a pediatrician specializing in food allergies, believes that the hygiene theory best explains the cause of food allergies. This theory emphasizes that kids who get lots of infections early in life and don’t have immediate access to antibiotics tend to have robust immune systems that are busy fighting infections and gaining appropriate skills, whereas kids who grow up with minimal infections and early, immediate antibiotic use tend to have immune systems that look for something to do—and they change from proactive to destructive when they recognize a food protein as an enemy. Genetics also play a role as well. The odds of inheriting a food allergy are seventy percent if both parents have allergies, thirty percent if one parent has allergies, and ten to fifteen percent chance if there is no history of allergies. Clearly there is a genetic piece to the puzzle, but environment seems to play a prominent role.
I breastfed Evan for two-and-a-half years and life assumed a patina of careful observation and culinary experimentation for our family. Our diligence paid off and Evan outgrew his allergy to eggs and his allergy to dairy was downgraded to an acceptable level. He is asserting his independence now; yearning to unfurl his closely cropped wings. I watch him, as I have diligently done for four years, amazed and grateful that we have faced and conquered our ordeal. Closely bonded, we shall be able to face any life challenge together now.
With Evan as her inspiration, Theresa Kingma wrote the "Dairy-free, Egg-free, Kid Pleasing Recipes & Tips Cookbook." It can be purchased as a book, e-book, or CD direct from the Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Kid Pleasing website.