Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Sibling Debate: When one child has a food allergy and the other doesn't

What do you do when one child has food allergies and other child doesn't?

I have a gorgeous 3 year old allergy-free son, with a personality that is larger than life and now a beautiful 9 month old daughter, Matilda, who has a severe cows milk protein allergy. Since Matilda started weaning, my husband and I have often discussed...

 Should we make the whole family dairy free or just keep Matilda dairy free?

At our first paediatric dietitian appointment when Matilda was 6 months, our dietitian said that our whole household would most likely eventually end up dairy free, to which my husbands response was simply, 'no chance.' Myself however, having been on a strict dairy free diet while breastfeeding up to this point, knew it was easily manageable. And thus began our debate.

Should you deny one child because the other cannot have it?

The answer is not straight forward and neither can it be. Every child's allergy is different and so is their type of reaction. In cases where the child reacts when allergens are airborne or by touch than it is without doubt that the allergen needs to be eradicated from the environment. It is never worth the risk.

However, if an allergic reaction occurs when the allergen is ingested, is it easier to control the environment so that an allergic reaction can be avoided?

Matilda only reacts when cows milk is ingested. When we were about to begin weaning, my husband and I had to decide whether we needed to eliminate dairy completely from our household. Up until this point, I had been dairy free breastfeeding and as an adult was able to safely ensure I did not consume any dairy. Then after six months, I made the difficult decision to stop dairy free breastfeeding which you can read about more on my post The End of Dairy Free Breastfeeding: My Experience This meant that my three year old had six months experience of me being dairy free. He was used to offering me food and me responding 'thank you darling, but that has milk in it and milk makes Matilda sick.' He even used to frequently ask me whether the food he had contained milk and on a couple of occasions, including in one very busy restaurant, shouted across at me while I ate, 'MUM YOU CAN'T EAT THAT, IT HAS MILK, YOU WILL MAKE MATILDA SICK.' even long after I stopped breastfeeding! He was very aware and conscious of it. By having those six months of me being dairy free and the discussions that came with it, we felt he was very well prepared for when Matilda started weaning. He has never tried to feed her something without checking with me first and he still asks if something contains milk while I am feeding her. Therefore, we were able to keep dairy in the household for my husband and son to safely consume.

However, the situation is now changing. Matilda started crawling early and is now nearly walking. Her increased mobility has increased the risk factor. It is now no longer safe for my son to eat dairy containing snacks as Matilda will cheekily try to steal it from him, or if he drops a single crumb, she races there at the speed of light attempting to eat it before I remove it from her grasp.  

Our main concern now, is by having dairy containing products in the house, we are creating the risk of her accidentally ingesting it and having a severe reaction. After all mistakes are easily made, especially when we are tired or distracted. I have a severe allergy to penicillin and once managed to accidentally ingested it when my son had been prescribed penicillin for a bad chest infection. One day, as I administered him his dose, a small drop fell on my hand, as I was trying to persuade him to take it. I automatically licked the drip of my hand before realising what I had done. I could have kicked myself, its not something you would do even if you weren't allergic, but the endless sleepless nights from him coughing had clearly affected my ability to think clearly.

And this is where the problem lies. Even with the best intentions and highest level of organisation and 'control,' we are only human. We do make mistakes. Therefore, in keeping food that contains an ingredient that one child is allergic to, does increase the element of risk. And as a mum of a child with allergies, don't we spend all our time striving to eliminate that risk?

Our snacks are therefore, now all dairy free and with Matilda now being at the stage where she can pretty much eat the same as us, our meals are becoming more and more dairy free also. It has been a natural progression for our family. One that at the beginning, we thought would be impossible, but actually hasn't been as big a sacrifice as we first thought. The ever growing vegan population and increased products available has been a great help. One we couldn't be more grateful for. 

It is a tricky one and I don't feel we can judge others for what decision they make for their family and child. As I said earlier, every child's allergy and reaction is different. What works for a baby may not work for a toddler, or again for an older child or even an adult. It is such a minefield, an exhausting one. Just remember, you can only do what you feel is best at the time and somethings, as scary as it is, are just not in our control.

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