A few days ago, I received a heartwarming email from fellow eczema mama Kailee. She asked me for tips on weaning her 13 month-old eczema baby. It got me thinking in-depth about our own weaning journey. As I sat down to draft a reply, I started to list all the things that worked and did not which has inspired this post.
MY TIPS FOR WEANING ECZEMA & ALLERGIC BABIES
1. Have a proper game plan for investigating triggers.
Weaning a normal baby is a tough job, weaning an allergic baby is ten times tougher! Because you will wonder if every new solid introduction is going to bring on an allergic reaction.
Early in our journey we were seeing all sorts of doctors, trying to listen to all their opinions and suggestions. Seriously, it only confused me further while in the meantime Corey’s eczema just got worse and I did not have any clear ideas what was causing it. It was only after we found Corey’s current allergist that I was given some basic triggers to work with.
Find the right doctor!
I know by now I sound like a broken record but this is my first tip for investigating triggers: if you haven’t found the right doctor, keep looking. Allergists may not have all the answers but they definitely have the most reliable answers when it relates to testing and interpreting test results. Besides, depending on how severe your baby’s eczema and allergies are, antihistamines and medicated creams may be a norm. And nobody except doctors should be the authority to tell you how to use medicated creams and antihistamines.
Narrow down a base of confirmed allergic foods
Once you have a trusted allergist who works with you closely to investigate triggers, you should be able to identify a base of allergic foods to avoid. When we found ours, and we narrowed down Corey’s triggers to eggs, milk, peanuts and shellfish, it was a HUGE weight off my chest.
There are some triggers that are harder to investigate, like those that are not IgE mediated and those where symptoms are more varied. But that only means you should keep asking your doctors questions which will reveal whether they are able to help you. If you find yourself frustrated and unable to get clear answers, it might be time to seek another opinion.
JUST. KEEP. LOOKING.
2. Get eczema under control, everything else will slowly fall into place
With so much to do for infants, it’s hard to focus on anything and yet we have to focus on everything. Where do we start?
Try to recall the last time you had an intense itch from a rash. You scratch it but the itch only got more intense. It was so uncomfortable and you know scratching would make things worse. But you could not do anything else except think about the itch.
Babies learn through instinct. If there is an itch, they instinctively learn to scratch or rub to soothe it. Imagine how uncomfortable itching might be for them. Such that they might not be able to feed well, play well and thrive.
If you get the eczema under control, and everything else will fall into place.
2. Its OK for eczema and allergic babies to wean slower and with lesser variety than normal children
The caveat to this rule is as long as they are thriving and getting a balanced diet (even if limited) of proteins, veggies, fruits and grains.
For a whole year when we started solids, Corey’s had a pretty restricted diet. He ate a restricted but healthy diet consisting of: chicken (and other meat proteins like pork, beef and fish), drank chicken bone broth, spinach, pumpkin, papaya, watermelon, sweet potatoes, rice, wheat noodles (he is ok with gluten).
I introduced foods very slowly because his eczema was so bad. But now on hindsight, being slow was ok, because he got sufficient nutrients while we were sorting out his eczema.
It’s almost a lifestyle choice, there is no real need to rush to have your baby eat certain foods just because conventional parenting methods says so.
What is more important is your child is happy, growing well (not failing to thrive), and you are relaxed when she eats familiar foods.
3. Think simplicity.
Single ingredients, prepared in the simplest ways with the least flavourings.
Fruits and vegetables are usually low reactivity so start with those. Meat proteins are also usually ok so try a variety of chicken, pork, beef and lamb.
Just remember to try one at a time and cooked in the simplest form like steamed, poached or baked with the least flavourings.
3. Work with confirmed triggers, stop being paranoid about the rest.
When I started really researching I opened up a Pandora’s box of paranoia. Suddenly it felt like everything could cause a reaction.
In times like those, I had to take a few steps back, tell myself we can’t go through life being paranoid. Our glass is half full not half empty. So unless an allergy test confirms something else, we treat everything else as non-allergic.
4. Journal Away your stress and learn to recognise your baby’s patterns
To stop being paranoid is very tough, I KNOW. Many times it felt like I was having a nervous breakdown when I tried new foods for Corey.
My way of dealing with this stress was to take a lot of emotion out of the process through journalling down my plan. I would draw up a list of foods I wanted to try, also noted down his reactions so I mapped a pattern of his reactions and itch.
5. Pick good skin days to try new foods
If Corey’s eczema was bad I would not try new foods, simply because any small reaction would send me into paranoia mode. I tried giving him new foods during flares and any small discomfort was a sign of an allergic reaction. I suspected he reacted to apples and eggplant because of this and insisted his allergist test for them. Which came out negative and he happily eats apples and eggplant today.
If you are unsure whether a new food has caused a reaction ( itching occurs after, or eczema seemed to have gotten a bit worse), then stop that new food and go back to what you know is safe. Wait for the eczema flare to pass and pick a good day to try again at a later time.
6. Eat together as a family
and try having a common dish that baby can eat together with everyone.
Having your baby watch everyone eating together happily is a great way to encourage food curiosity. I’m not suggesting adults also have to eat pureed food. It can be a simple dish like steamed sweet potatoes or baked cauliflowers or pumpkin.
Conversely, it is unnerving for a toddler if she picks up your nervousness in feeding her something new. By having it done during a meal together helps you relax as well. Just remember to keep an eye on the clock so that you stay aware of any reactions that happen in the first hour.
7. Make bone broth.
Make mealtimes and eating an enjoyable experience.
I know it is especially hard for parents to allergic children to enjoy mealtimes, especially when you are feeding them new foods. But as mentioned, children pick up on our vibes really quickly. They sense our nerves first, more than they care about the new food you are about to feed them. Their negative response to something new could sometimes be a projection of our nervousness. It is our job as parents to make mealtimes and eating an enjoyable experience. To do so, we have to be relaxed and try to enjoy the process too.
Parenting these days has become somewhat of a spectator sport. But it honestly does not have to be. We have to adjust our pace to suit how our babies are growing. Especially if they have special needs, they need time and space to grow. We too as parents, need time and space to learn how to parent allergic children.
My solution to counter my own fears is to revisit the above tips over and over. And always use the following quick questions to yourself: is your baby happy, thriving, growing well, learning well? If your answer is yes, then there is no need to panic but continue to work hard at introducing new foods, one at a time.
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