Allergy Babies

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Issy, known to her young family, and her Instagram followers as Mummy Scrummie is a Hampshire-based mum of two and brand rep for Catkin Toys. Issy writes a guest blog feature, covering the parenting topics and issues that interest you! Have a topic you’d like to hear more about? Get in touch!

First up, allergy babies!

Breastfeeding and Cows Milk Protein Allergy

As I write this, it is the day after my son’s first birthday. And that birthday marked the first day in 12 months that I haven’t breastfed him. That’s it, he’s weaned and I’ve got a whole bundle of feelings about it, because this journey, unlike my breastfeeding journey with his elder sister, has been different; this baby, my Littlest Scrummie, is my allergy baby.

A year ago, in the middle of a national lockdown, I went into hospital for an emergency C section and Littlest was brought into the world. Although a healthy 8lbs 15oz, he was having trouble breathing and needed a bit of TLC from the NICU. When we could eventually bring him home he was miserable, not gaining weight properly and constantly vomiting.

We relayed this to our Health Visitor, explaining that Littlest really didn’t seem quite right and that the ten or eleven hours a day he was bawling his eyes out were really beginning to get to us. The HV suggested that it was probably colic and put it to us that we could try colic relief products on the market, keeping him as upright during and after feeds, warm baths, baby-wearing and going for walks with the pram. None of it made any real difference.

Because he wasn’t gaining weight as he was expected to, despite being breastfed on-demand (every 20 minutes or so, day and night), Littlest still hadn’t been discharged from the midwifery team, and we were going for weigh-ins every couple of days; however, courtesy of Covid restrictions, we were no longer getting support from the Health Visiting team and I was getting increasingly frazzled by my baby’s clear level of discomfort and unhappiness; what was the matter with him? What could I do to help him? I was exhausted. My husband was exhausted and Little Miss (then 3) was not getting the attention she needed from her two knackered parents.

And then, the day he turned 3 weeks old, Littlest started haemorrhaging. It began with blood in his nappy, not blood in his poo, blood spurting from him. First just a little and then a lot. And at that point, not knowing what on Earth was going on, we took him straight to A and E.

Covid restrictions meant that only one parent was allowed on the ward and as a breastfeeding mummy, it had to be me. I was absolutely terrified, with no idea what was the matter with him, I was convinced that my baby was dying. I was exhausted, alone and, because Littlest was too young to have had his immunisations, we were shut in a room on the ward, with limited staff contact in order to protect him from picking catching anything, least of all Covid, my local hospital being a hotspot at that point in time.

After hours of just sitting there, helplessly watching my baby bleed and bleed, we had the results of his tests back. The doctors had tested for haemophilia, gastric cancer, meningitis, cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. I was beside myself, partially because the doctors seemed worried and partially because I was so desperate to help Littlest and above all so desperate to stop the bleeding.

All his results came back clear, and the only diagnosis left to Littlest’s medical team was a severe allergic reaction to something I had eaten and that, as a result, he had ingested through my breastmilk. We were told that it was suspected acute CMPA, Cows Milk Protein Allergy.

Boy did I feel guilty! The doctors suggested that if I wanted to continue breastfeeding, I would need to completely eliminate dairy from my diet, dairy being the most likely allergen to have caused the kind of reaction Littlest was experiencing. Alternatively, I could switch to a specialist formula and try bottle-feeding him.

I knew that I wanted to at least try to breastfeed my baby; I’d been lucky enough to be able to breastfeed his sister, and pre-pregnancy it had been my hope to breastfeed him for at least the same amount of time, for at least one of the two years that the WHO advocates.

So I cut out dairy. And it made a difference to Littlest. And I found it really hard.

A few months went by and although we’d seen an improvement, and most thankfully of all, the bleeding had stopped, Littlest was still vomiting all the time (N.B. not standard baby posseting, but full-on vomits) and so when we next went back to the dietician, I was advised to eliminate soya, which has a similar chemical make up to milk proteins, from my diet too.

Oh my goodness, milk and soya seem to be in everything; and prior to having an “allergy baby”, I just didn’t realise this. I’ve never been a caloriecounter, nor have I been someone to obsess over the ingredients on the back of a packet. I’m a big foodie and food is a big part of my life: I love Sunday roast lunches, afternoon cream teas and (several) cheeky cuppas a day.

It sounds daft, but having that part of my freedom taken away was really tough. I couldn’t eat or drink the things that I usually liked to and, coming at the time it did, when restaurants and cafes were just beginning to open up again after lockdown, offering limited menus, allergen-awareness didn’t seem to be a priority; if my husband and I were both just too exhausted to cook, I couldn’t just order us a takeaway, or take the family out to eat because I couldn’t eat anything on the reduced menus. My mental health was suffering: I felt stressed and depressed.

However, every cloud and all that, Littlest was improving. With dairy and soya now eliminated completely from our mutual diet he was happy and healthy and starting to thrive. Gone was the screamy baby of those early days and along came this smiley little person with a vibrant personality and an infectious giggle. At 6 months we started weaning.

And now, having celebrated his birthday yesterday, I have done his last “boobie” (as his big sister dubbed it) and we next up on our allergy journey: the milk (and soya) ladder, the concept of reintroducing dairy and soya into his diet bit by bit, monitoring the effect it has on him as we go. The milk ladder begins with Littlest trying literally a crumb of a baked milk biscuit, and then – hopefully – building his way up to being able to tolerate fresh milk.

It’s been a bumpy road to get to where we are, and I have no doubt that there will be further bumps in the road ahead; however, for now at least, I am happy to celebrate Littlest’s first year, to celebrate successfully breastfeeding him for the duration of that time and – of course – to celebrate now being able to eat ALL the cheese!!

Have you or your little one been affected by Cows Milk Protein Allergy? I’d love to hear from you and see how you got on.

Mummy Scrummie’s Top Tips for Managing CMPA:

• Download the Food Maestro app, you can programme the app to recognise your allergy and then when scan the barcode of nearly any product and it will tell you whether or not that product is suitable for your dietary requirement: handy when you’re a sleep-deprived Mummy who can’t think straight!

• Always read the label; even if you think you know it’s allergen free: I’ve seen milk in all sort of things I never would have even thought of: crisps, sausages, body lotions. Always check.

• In an age where you may be wearing a face-mask to order food, to make sure the person taking your order has heard your allergy requirements correctly, write it down for them, or type it onto your phone screen.

• If, like me, you don’t like the taste of the non-dairy milk alternatives in tea, try switching to chai tea, as the spiced flavouring covers the distinctly non-milky taste; I would imagine the same principle applies to flavoured coffees.

• Always take a snack out and about – for you and baby; there’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere that doesn’t provide for dairy/soya free options and then being hungry and grumpy for the rest of the day!

• If you are dining out, look up the menu before you go, preferably the allergen menu, and decide what you’re going to order before you leave!

Scrummie Alternatives

• NOMO chocolate

• Oatly ice cream, Oatly sour cream

• Violife grated cheese

• Flora plant butter

• Oat milk (any brand)

Do you have any allergy tips? Drop them in the comments!

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