I never realised how much I enjoyed my breakfast of half-boiled eggs with soy sauce and pepper until the day I couldn’t. V1 was two months old when the paediatric dermatologist informed me of her allergies, and that I had to remove dairy products, eggs and nuts from my diet if I wanted to continue breastfeeding. Later, with V2, I had to avoid sesame as well, ruling out a lot of Oriental dishes.
It was difficult in the beginning. I love my food and had limited choices but as time passed, I began focusing on food I could have. This shift in mindset helped as I found it a breeze to abstain the second time around with V2.
I soldiered on with breastfeeding for one reason – that the benefits of breast milk over a soya/amino acid milk replacement outweighed my temporary dietary restrictions. My babies needed the best possible nutrition I could provide and I knew I wouldn’t be breastfeeding forever. Thankfully despite the allergies, I breastfed V1 for 15 months and V2 for 21 months.
The allergies influenced us positively as a family. We perused the list of ingredients for every single item of food we bought or ate. This made us aware of what the girls were eating. I had little choice but to give the girls food that were, as close as possible, in their original state– veggies, for example, came without dairy-based dressings or nut oils, and meat or fish were usually unmarinated, cooked with garlic or a tomato-based sauce.
Dealing with applying steroid creams, carrying anti-histamines and an EpiPen with us at all times have become the norm. The allergy skin prick tests and blood tests were a little traumatising initially but we quickly became accustomed to the routine check-ups.
Planning ahead whenever we ate out or travelled was an absolute must. My husband would pore over allergy menus, if the restaurant had one, before placing an order. There were countless occasions when we had to speak to the chef directly and order something off the menu for our daughters. At times we had to find alternatives as some restaurants flat out refused to cater to our allergies. On one occasion, a waitress at a dim sum place told us outright to eat elsewhere as she had neither the time nor the inclination to find out which items contained eggs or nuts.
Although both V1 and V2 are allergic to dairy, eggs and nuts, their reactions manifested differently at first. V1 tended to get an immediate reaction of rashes on her cheeks, followed by hives. With V2, her chin and back became extremely itchy 10-15 minutes after ingesting an allergen. I remember the time in Jakarta when I discovered, to my horror, that V1’s entire face had become so bloated I could barely make out her eyes. V1 and I were visiting my cousin, and V1 had a prolonged reaction after eating meat that had been marinated in egg white- after being assured by the waitress that the dish contained no eggs.
If you are a new parent to a child with allergies, here are a few things to remember:
Allergies Tip #1: Some things are beyond your control
I went through a phase of mother’s guilt, believing I had passed my allergies on to my children. With a history of eczema and childhood asthma, both my husband and I are considered atopic: we are predisposed towards developing certain allergic hypersensitivity reactions. I was convinced that I had eaten too much peanut butter during my 1st pregnancy, thereby causing V1’s peanut allergy. It took me a while to stop wallowing in guilt. The fact of the matter is that allergies are predominantly genetic and we cannot choose which genes to pass down to our children.
Allergies Tip #2: It gets better
Most children slowly outgrow their allergies as they get older. Even if they don’t, you become more adept at dealing with the allergies.
Allergies Tip #3: Treat the problem, not the symptom
When V1 was first prescribed steroid creams, I used to worry incessantly about the effect steroids would have on her. I tried herbal creams, which didn’t help, as her rashes were a manifestation of her body’s reaction to the allergens. Her skin improved only after I became more vigilant in eliminating all traces of the allergens, and preventing cross-contamination.
Allergies Tip #4: Remember to plan ahead
Planning ahead takes the stress out of many situations. Whenever we travel or head out we pack food that the kids and I can eat. This was especially the case when I was breastfeeding. There is nothing worse than being hungry and realising there is nothing suitable on the menu! In addition, we try our best to find restaurants that have vegan and allergy-friendly options.
Allergies Tip #5: Don’t stress, just do your best
Just yesterday my kids had a simple lunch of bananas, plain jacket potatoes and a veal burger patty at a café in Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, but only because everything else on the menu had dairy products in them. You will have good days and bad days but as long as the kids are happy and healthy, you’re doing great!
By Jessica Cheng
Jessica Cheng hails from Subang Jaya but is currently a full-time working mum manoeuvring the corporate world in London. She is a bubble tea addict who loves experiencing food and travel with the three Vs in her life: her husband and two little girls.