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.
TOP 10 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! The fear is real and I’m with you mama. 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 incredibly intense itch. You scratch it but that did not stop the itch. You know scratching would make things worse but you can’t help yourself so you continued scratching hoping it will go away.
Now, imagine you are in your baby’s shoes. You as an adult may have the sense to know that scratching will make a rash worse. Thus you might attempt to exercise self control and find other ways to overcome an itch maybe with a cream or ice. But babies don’t have the benefit of sense yet. Infants and even toddlers learn about their baby through instinct. If there is an itch, their brain sends a signal to their hands to move to soothe it. Imagine how uncomfortable itching is for them. For the chronic cases, these babies end up using so much of their energy in trying to squelch the itch that it affects their ability to feed, play and thrive.
In this context it’s not difficult to see that how important it is to get the eczema under control.
True enough, in my own experience, once we got the worse of the eczema under control, everything else fell into place.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Processed foods and anything with preservatives are an absolute no. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you ‘a little bit won’t hurt.’ For extremely sensitive and allergic babies it can and will hurt, so keep it simple.
5. Work with confirmed triggers, stop being paranoid about the rest.
Google ‘allergenic foods’ and you will open up a Pandora’s box of paranoia. Suddenly it feels like anything could cause my baby to react.
In the first weeks of weaning, I remember emailing our allergist asking about every single food I wanted to try. His answer was always the same: ONLY avoid the confirmed allergens.
Every itch after consuming a new food item would send me into panic mode. Did my baby develop a new allergy? Was he scratching because of the Apple I just fed him?
In times like those, I had to take a few steps back, remind myself of what doctor said. So unless an allergy test confirms something else, we treat everything else as non-allergic.
I know the execution is harder in reality so for days where the nerves overwhelmed me, I followed the next tip, number 6.
6. 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 and insisted his allergist test for them. The results 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 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.
7. 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. I also noted down his reactions so I mapped a pattern of his reactions and itch.
Keeping a journal has helped me to process my thoughts on my son’s condition. I list down systematically lists of foods I wanted to introduce. I came up with a plan of action to overhaul my kitchen to suit my baby’s allergenic needs. I tracked his eczema through mullet journal trackers. Just the act of writing down gave me some small sense of comfort. Concentrating on the small details by writing them down gave me some control over an unpredictable situation.
It’s easy to try. Just pick up an empty book and start writing. Or if you prefer paperless, even a simple notes app on your phone will suffice. I recently started using a digital planner on my Ipad.
8. Eat together as a family
Have at least one 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 eat pureed food. For babies above 6 months of age, a simple dish like steamed sweet potatoes or baked cauliflowers or pumpkin will suffice.
Conversely, it is unnerving for a toddler if she picks up your nervousness in feeding her something new. By introducing a new food during a family meal might help you relax as well. Just remember to keep an eye on the clock. I count 1 hour after the first ingestion and watch for any reactions.
9. Make bone broth.
10. 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. Children and even babies pick up on our vibes really quickly. They sense our nerves even before we place new foods in their mouths. Their reluctance to try something new placed in front of them could simply be from our own 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 like severe allergies or chronic eczema, 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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