Feature Mom: Meet Nicole

Hi!  My name is Nicole.  I’ve been invited to share about our journey down the road of allergies, intolerances, and our extremely fussy little baby.  My husband Brad and I had our first son, Tucker, almost 3 years ago.  He was what I like to call “easy breezy” and his easy-breeziness did not prepare us for what our daughter would bring into our lives.  Our sweet Hadley was born this past January.  For the first few weeks of her life, she was sweet, snuggly, and the source of our sleepless nights.  Around 3 weeks, it was as if a switch was turned on and her chronic crying began.  It would start at 8:30 pm (usually right on the nose) and it wouldn’t stop until at least 10:30…but sometimes lasted until 2 am.   She wasn’t hungry, she didn’t have a dirty diaper… she just screamed.  Laying her down didn’t help, the swing didn’t help, and holding her only helped for a few minutes at a time.  We would take 30 minute intervals each, counting down the minutes each night until she would surrender and go to sleep.

A few weeks of this happening consistently led us to believe she had colic.  She had the 3’s they talk about—starting at 3 weeks, lasting for 3 hours each day, over a period of 3 months.  She also was struggling to poop, sometimes going days without one; and when she did poop, it was often green.  Her cradle cap was out of control—looking like the first signs of eczema.  When she was 6 weeks old, I was reaching my breaking point and headed to the Dr.  She recommended that I eliminate dairy from my diet.  At the time that seemed completely overwhelming (now, it seems like a dream) but eliminate I did.  The next 2 weeks not only didn’t get better, they actually got worse.  She was not only crying for her regular 3 hours at night but during the day as well…sometimes starting at 2 pm and keeping it up until 2 am.  Discouraging.

At this point, my doctor recommended that I eliminate 4 of the major allergens from my diet-if I was committed to continuing breastfeeding.  DAIRY, SOY, CORN, and GLUTEN.  What would I eat, you ask?  I asked the same thing…and for the first week, I was H.U.N.G.R.Y.  But, a few of my friends came to the rescue—friends that had been down the road of food allergies and crazy diets before me.  I quickly learned tips such as Oreos don’t have diary in them, and almost all Brianna’s dressings don’t have the main allergens in them, and the most important one–there is a coffee creamer I can use – YAY for So Delicious hazelnut creamer!

General Elimination Process that I follwed:

  • Cut out allergens completely-no cheating.
  • After 4 weeks, start adding back in one allergen at a time, for a week at a time.
  • If you notice fussiness/weird poops/more gas, stop eating that allergen and wait another week or so to add something new into your diet.

To our amazement, after those 4 weeks of elimination, Hadley’s fussiness subsided significantly.  Until 12 weeks she still had her rough time every night at 8:30 but she appeared to be content throughout the rest of the day.  After 12 weeks when she started sleeping through the 8:30 time, we were absolutely convinced that the diet was working.  It was like someone replaced our fussy baby with a happy, content one.  The diet was challenging but doable…even with my husband and 2 year old son.  We didn’t have to adjust much at dinner time (meat, veggie side, and some version of rice or potatoes) and throughout the day, they were able to eat allergens even thought I wasn’t.

The “adding back in” process for me was a long one.  Each allergen I added back in backfired on me, plunging Hadley back into that familiar fussy pattern.  The green poops returned as well as the gas…and she would have a hard time getting comfortable to sleep.  After trying dairy and soy with no luck, I decided to continue to eliminate everything for awhile longer and allow Hadley to grow and hopefully grow out of whatever was going on.

At Hadley’s 6 month appt we decided to do bloodwork to test for allergies and food intolerances.  At this point, we had it down…she was happy, the diet had gotten manageable, and I was prepared to stick it out for the next several months.  But, I was craving the piece of mind a test result would give and my doctor recommended we see what we could find out.  The craziest thing happened – all bloodwork was completely NORMAL.  Not only was she not allergic to anything (I expected this), she was not intolerant to anything!  The doctor did say that intolerances wouldn’t show up if the things she was intolerant to were out of her system for awhile—which they were.  So, this was relieving and a little maddening, all at the same time.  I didn’t want anything to be wrong but I also wanted some answers to this long road we had been on and these tests weren’t providing that.

At this point, it was up to me to decide when I wanted to add things back into my diet.  Although that process seemed daunting, it was very relieving to know that I couldn’t “hurt” her since she wasn’t allergic to anything.  At 7 months, I started adding the allergens back in, one at a time, a week at a time, in very small doses.  Hadley will be 8 months in a few days and I’m in the process of adding the final allergen, dairy, back in as I write this.  All of them seem to bode well with her so far … but all of this food is rockin’ our stomachs in the process!  🙂

My conclusion is that Hadley’s stomach was sensitive and possibly a little too underdeveloped to handle some of these foods—that are in everything we eat—that our bodies don’t digest well.  I am convinced this was the case because she was a difference baby once the food was out of her system.  Was the process hard?  Absolutely.  Was it one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve ever made?  Sure.  Was it worth it?  Of, course!  If you’ve ever had a baby that just won’t stop crying, you will do anything to make it stop…even if that means giving up butter and all things carbs.  Since the 6 month mark, Hadley has consistently been such a happy, easy baby!  It is so strange to say those words, since the first several months were HARD, but we finally arrived in content baby land and it feels so good!  🙂

If you are reading this and are in the midst of your own journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or post comments on this blog so that someone can encourage you.  What a great idea my friend Jessica had to create this blog—a place for moms to come and not feel alone!

What I’ve learned:

  • Food is powerful and the abundance or lack of it in our bodies can change our entire demeanor.
  • Although having a limited diet is challenging, it is POSSIBLE.  There are more options than ever – blogs of moms who’ve been there, Health Food stores in most cities, and lots of other online resources.
  • It really does get better.  It is hard to imagine that when you’re in the middle of the sleepless-night-screaming-day-and-verge-of-tears-stage, but it really does come to an end.

A few of my favorite foods on the allergen free diet:

My “go to’s” at restaurants were salads (request oil and vinegar to use as your dressing), burgers (it is more unlikely that butter is added to a burger as opposed to chicken, seafood, or red meat), fries…NO guilt over fries on this diet 🙂

A favorite recipe of our family’s during this time was given to me by my friend Reagan, who was actually the “Feature Mom” last month!  This is a great, easy one-pot meal that my family actually still requests on a normal basis!

A {dairy, corn, peanut, egg, soy, gluten-free} not-so-dirty Dirty Rice:

1 lb. lean ground beef {there’s no draining}

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 T. chopped fresh parsley

1 green pepper, chopped {Here is a short cut…buy the celery, onion, parsley and pepper frozen combo in the grocery store OR I freeze extras when I chop them for other recipes}

– Cook in a large skillet over medium-high, stirring until beef crumbles and is no longer pink.

1 tsp. salt

pinch of red pepper

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 T. Worcestershire sauce (original Lea and Perrins is allergen free)

– Stir in seasonings, stirring well.

1 c. uncooked rice

1 can beef broth

3/4 c. water

-Add rice, broth, and water, stirring well. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25-30 minutes until rice is tender.

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Feature Mom: Meet Reagan

Welcome to our new blog feature, where we highlight a mom of allergic kids to let her share her story. Reagan was the first mom that came to my mind for this feature. She was not only the brains behind this blog, but I consider her the “pioneer” of allergy parenting for our group of friends. I remember back when she discovered her first baby, Greer, was allergic to milk, and adjusted her diet to continue nursing. I don’t think I was the only friend watching to give her situation a whole ten seconds of thought, basically consisting of, “Wow, that stinks. I would hate that.” I had no idea I would ever face a similar struggle! As you’ll see, Reagan is a consistent source of wisdom to the friends who know her, whatever the topic at hand. I enjoyed reading her story and hope you do, too!

Hey!  My name is Reagan.  I have two kids and each of them have led me on a different story of becoming allergy-free.  My daughter is 4 now and I started suspecting her milk allergy at 2 or 3 months old.  The most distinct symptom was watery green stools.  She was a relatively happy baby, so her behavior didn’t cause concern at all.  She did spit-up, but in looking back, I would say it was after I ate dairy and it was primarily everything she had eaten when it happened.  Thankfully, I had a friend whose oldest son had just been diagnosed with allergies (at age 2) and our babies were around a week apart, so she encouraged me to research a milk allergy.

After a couple attempts of getting a good stool sample, the doctor confirmed my suspicion that she did have blood in her stool which usually indicates a diary allergy.  The internet became my source of dairy-free wisdom, but despite how hard I tried, I felt like I always discovered after the fact that I had eaten something with dairy by the poopie diaper I had to change.  I would describe my first experience going dairy-free as very guilt-laden and depressing.  There was so much information to not only become familiar with myself, but also share with family and friends.  I felt separated from the world and my eyes were constantly being opened to the reality that the food I had been eating was filled with things that surprised me.  
 
At one-year-old, my doctor encouraged me to begin giving my daughter milk and she hasn’t had a problem digesting milk products since.  At that point, I began weaning her since I felt confident that we did have a safe option for her to drink.  When I was allowed to add milk products back into my diet, I noticed a lot more stomach pain than I had experienced during the previous year.  I had always suspected a dairy intolerance, but now my thoughts were confirmed, and although I didn’t totally eliminate dairy from my diet, I reduced it significantly.
 
Let’s fast-forward two years later when my son was born.  When I was pregnant, I did not reduce my dairy intake.  Honestly, I think I looked at it as my opportunity to enjoy dairy because I knew the road that could lie ahead.  It took a couple of weeks before I noticed what I would describe as colic-like symptoms.  He required more holding and rocking, he spit-up all the time, and he spent most of the evening hours crying.  I started eliminating dairy after a few weeks, and I remember one night asking my husband to pick up dinner on the way home.  My dinner included sour cream and cheese and my son let me know that he was not happy!  
 
The next time I visited the pediatrician, I explained the symptoms and that my daughter had experienced a similar reaction (we had moved during this time, so I was using a new doctor) and she immediately endorsed my observations and encouraged me to go back on the dairy-elimination diet.  I want to add a little commentary here that will hopefully be applicable to all mothers.  I have often said that pediatricians must go to school to learn how to calm parents fears and concerns because often that is their response when we share our observations.  That is usually a good thing because many times our children’s bodies have the ability to heal the cold or the stomach virus or similar problems, but if you sincerely think that your child is suffering with something that needs more attention, ask, seek, beg until you feel heard.  Look for a doctor that will listen to you and care for your child. I am endlessly thankful for all of the great doctors who have cared for me and my children along this path.  (End of my soap box.)
 
As I eliminated dairy with my son, his discomfort decreased and he began sleeping better.  The spit-up continued, but I was encouraged that his physical development would probably improve that around 4 months.  There was also a rash around his mouth that appeared to be eczema, but I was encouraged that it would clear up when the spit-up stopped.  Shortly thereafter, we were visiting my husband’s family for the holidays.  Since I couldn’t have any of the special food they ate at breakfast, his mother made me some scrambled eggs.  I don’t think my husband and I got more than an hour of sleep that night.  Then I began eliminating eggs from my diet.  Some children can take eggs that have been fully cooked in baked products, but I never saw his symptoms improve, so I eliminated everything with eggs.  
 
Around this time we moved again, and when I found a new pediatrician, I immediately asked for a referral to an allergist hoping to get to the bottom of what was causing the spit-up and rash on his face.  He was still waking up 2-4 times a night, so that was a concern as well.  The allergist did a prick test on his back and told me that he was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, and corn.  I about cried in his office.  I must have looked shocked because he helped me make a plan to continue nursing.  He suggested I eliminate the allergens with the highest score and those I was already aware of (dairy, eggs, peanuts, and corn) and monitor the other two to see if I could tell a difference when he ate them (wheat and soy).  My son was also eating solids at this point, so I would have to carefully watch what he ate as well.  I went home and cried to my husband and he patiently helped me to begin to wrap my head around what I was about to do.  Honestly, I had no other option.  The allergy-free formulas were too expensive and I didn’t want to give up nursing at that point.  
 
I feel like the second time around I was more able to handle the diet emotionally and spiritually, but being so set apart from the group in any social situation was terribly humbling.  I had to take my own food if we were going to dinner at a friend’s house, having a church social, or even going to visit family.  I was hungry much of the time because there was so little I could eat.  If I ever left home, I had to have a plan for where I could eat, what I could eat, and at what time.  This diet caused more isolation at a time when I already felt isolated with two young children, nursing one, and trapped by their schedules.  This time around, however, I was compelled to fight through the difficulty because I knew it was best for my family.  When he turned one, I was able to wean him onto rice milk and that is what he continues to drink now.
 
This Saturday my son will turn 2.  In the last 6 months, I have added dairy products into his diet successfully, but I haven’t seen much improvement in his eczema, so I haven’t added anything else in.  I am really humbled and amazed at how happy he is despite the dietary restrictions he has.  Thankfully, his response to the allergens is not life-threatening, so I don’t have to guard his eating quite as tightly as some moms do.  We go to the allergist next week for another prick test, and I am anxiously awaiting the results.  He has shown signs of seasonal allergies, so I don’t think our road is over with all allergies.
 
How has this changed our lives?  Of course the obvious, what we eat as a family has changed.  But beyond eliminating the allergens, I would say that we are more conscious about the added ingredients of the foods we eat.  Honestly, you have to be when your child has a corn allergy.  Corn syrup is in everything!  I hope that we are more sensitive to the dietary needs of those around us.  It makes it easier to embrace other elimination diets when preparing food for others.  We try to place value on events that do not include food (or plan events with picnic dinners so that everyone can bring what is safe for their family).  I would have never expected this diet to be a tool of God to humble me and show me so vividly my need for His grace, but it certainly did.  My heart was purified as I realized how much I valued a sense of belonging to others around me rather than Him.  I also think that I learned (some) contentment and to have an appreciation for this draining and challenging place in life.  Through my husband’s influence, I also took up running and hiking once I felt confident that I was able to keep my body properly energized.  That experience gave me a confidence in my body and helped me get through such a difficult time in my life, that I am looking forward to exploring ways to challenge myself physically again.
What we eat?  There are many things that my son cannot eat out of a package that he can eat if I make it.  I have enjoyed learning to make my own granola.  Breakfast is by far the most challenging time of our day, so it is important that I have options available for us.  When they are delicious, I feel so grateful!  We have also found that the Better Oats brand of oatmeal has many delicious options that are both kid-friendly and healthy.  We eat lots of fruit!  My sons favorite food has to be broccoli.  It catches me off guard that he begs for mine after he has finished eating his, but no complaints here!  He eats a lot of Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  I really have found that it brings simplicity and joy to my life when I create a list of go-to recipes (I have around 20) that I use repeatedly for our meals.  I enjoy cooking so much that I can fall into a trap of looking for new recipes, but recently (Again!) I have decided that it is best for my children to have me- my attention and love- not a creative and new dinner.  
 
Despite how long this post is, I don’t feel like I have scratched the surface in many ways.  I would love for you to share any questions you may have or any part of my story that resonated with your experience.  Leave a comment below, so that others can join the discussion, too!
I have shared many recipes on this blog, so I will highlight an easy one we love!
ps- Don’t tell my kids that this isn’t bear meat!  That’s how we get them to eat it.
 
Shredded Beef over Rice

1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 (4lb.) boneless top chuck roast
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 (14 1/2 oz.) cans of Mexican stewed tomatoes
2 c. water
4 c. hot cooked rice
-Mix together first seven ingredients to make seasoning for the meat.  Apply liberally to roast.  
-Cook roast in hot oil in a large fry pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat until browned on all sides.
-Add roast to a crock pot that has been preheated on high.
-Add stewed tomatoes and water to crock pot being careful not to wash seasoning off of the meat.
-Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
-Remove roast and shred with two forks removing the fat.
-Stir the roast back into the tomato liquid and serve over rice.
We eat this with broccoli or green beans.
Pirate Luke, 21 months, and Princess Greer, 4
 
Thanks for sharing, Reagan! You are an inspiration!