My infant has a dairy allergy and I’ve learned a lot about allergens in the last few months. In hindsight, there may have been signs. I was nursing and consuming dairy and, while she was a “gassy baby,” she nursed without issue, was sleeping fine and there was no concerning vomiting or stool. She did do this sort of strange backbend thing, but we chalked that up to her learning to move her body. (A pediatric PT said that may have been a way for her to relieve some belly pain.) We really didn’t see this coming.
Introducing Food…Discovering An Allergy
Baby-led weaning (BLW) has been our preferred method of introducing food to our babies. It was a fun, exciting, and easy way to feed our baby. Our pediatrician encouraged it with our first and it was a given that we would do it again with our second baby. BLW is simple, baby eats what you eat. The drawback to BLW is that multiple food items are often introduced at the same time.
We were 3 weeks into our BLW journey and my daughter had already had mac & cheese, cheese pizza, and fresh mozzarella, so we didn’t think twice about taco night. We served her a “deconstructed taco” with a side of green beans seasoned with butter. She started eating, then came the reaction. First, she rubbed her eyes and kept rubbing. My husband initially thought the taco seasoning was irritating her, then her eyes started watering, then she started sneezing and we noticed the redness and hives all over her face, cheeks, and neck. We immediately took her out of her chair, cleaned her and gave her Benadryl. I took photos and messaged our pediatrician that night. It took about an hour for the hives to dissipate.
What was new?
Throughout our BLW journey, I kept/keep a note on my phone of new food(s) and the date they were introduced. Beef and green beans were new. The recommendation was to only give one of those “new” foods at a time. We started with green beans. On day two of only one new food my husband gave our daughter a piece of cheese as an “appetizer” while her green beans were warming. She had an immediate reaction: sneezing, itchy eyes, watery eyes, runny nose, and hives all over her face. We did Benadryl again. It took longer for the hives to dissipate and this time she seemed to be gagging and then vomited. It was terrifying. I could hardly sleep that night.
Mom Gut and Seeking Support
I messaged the doctor again, attached more pictures, and shared about the immediate reaction. Our pediatrician, whom we adore, recommended we cut all dairy from her diet and, by extension, mine since I was breastfeeding. Then we would wait until her 1st birthday for a blood test.
The idea of waiting almost 6 months for an answer was not okay with me. I asked about a referral to a pediatric allergist; I was told it wasn’t necessary. I asked about having an epi-pen. I was told her reaction was “mild.” My husband thought I was overreacting. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was more than “mild” and that something more was going on. I pushed and was told we could do the blood test as soon as I wanted.
I reached out to some allergy moms for advice/support and was met with a lot of “oh, yeah, my kid had that, we just switched formulas.” I found that a lot of people were equating a dairy allergy with lactose intolerance. I felt alone. I had some mom friends in an online mom group that had kids with allergies. I turned to them and found the support I needed. They asked about our experience and encouraged me to schedule with a pediatric allergist. I called and requested an appointment that day. The next available was two months away. (I did get on a waitlist, and our appt was moved up a full month.) In the meantime, we did the blood test, and not surprisingly, it was positive for an allergy.
Meeting with the allergist was the right move. She reviewed all of the notes and photos. She took a full history and stated that since my daughter’s reaction was “systemic” it did warrant having epi on hand. She trained me that day on how to administer it and we were sent home with a plan.
What I Learned About Allergies
- Her reaction was considered anaphylactic. It is life-threatening.
- Benadryl is NOT a first line of treatment but if it is all you have, give it!
- Anaphylaxis is more than just a throat closing, it can get worse with every subsequent exposure to the allergen.
- An allergic reaction does not necessarily happen with the initial exposure. There needs to be multiple, consistent, exposures to an allergen to rule it out as an allergy.
- Dairy is in everything and people don’t think about a lot of it.
- Dairy-free and plant-based substitutes are readily available.
We are often asked if our daughter will grow out of this allergy. Truthfully, we have no idea. She will have more in-depth blood testing and at some point, we may be able to do an allergy challenge. In the meantime, we will be reading every food label, constantly reminding people of her allergy, searching for non-dairy alternatives, and sharing our experiences with others.