Co-owner of PBB Events, Kirstie Allen talks about her first hand experience of weaning with a allergy.
Ellie had suffered with reflux and the most awful wind and explosive nappies for as long as (through 6 months of what felt like no sleep!) we could remember. She was breastfed from birth, and I had formula fed my first, so I just thought the nappies were normal for a breastfed baby. I did go to the GP for her reflux; my first child had reflux so I knew the signs and knew we needed something to help. She wouldn’t sleep at night, she wouldn’t nap during the day, and she clawed at her chest, and could only sleep on her front. We started on Gaviscon, but this didn’t help her, so we had to move to Ranitidine, which helped, but didn’t remove all the symptoms and pain she was clearly in some days. We hoped that once we started weaning her, the reflux would stop and we would be out of that “phase”.
We waited until she was 6 months old, and started to introduce puree carrots and sweet potato, mixed with a little of breast milk. All was going well, and Ellie was starting to get used to the idea of a spoon. A couple of weeks later, we introduced baby porridge, made with breast milk. Within a few minutes, Ellie had started choking, so I pulled her out of her high chair and started to give her back slaps, however, I soon realised that she wasn’t choking on any food, and that she was having a reaction to something, so the choking was her airway becoming compromised. She was covered in hives all over her face and all over her hands. I made no hesitation in calling 999, and within minutes we had a first responder with us.
Ellie had stopped coughing; the first responder was happy that we didn’t need to go to A&E, but stayed with us until we got through to our GP and got an immediate appointment. They were happy that she could have Chlorpheniramine and we started to see the hives go down. The baby porridge contained skimmed milk powder which the GP suspected could have been the culprit, so from that point Ellie and I (I wanted to continue breastfeeding) both avoided dairy products, and we were referred to an NHS allergy clinic. A few weeks later, I decided to try Ellie on a bit of scrambled egg, added no milk, and just cooked in a tiny bit of olive oil. An even quicker reaction developed than before, and we soon realised that eggs were a big no too! So we both became egg and dairy free, and I wondered how on earth I was going to wean a baby without dairy and eggs.
We had our appointment at the allergy specialist clinic 3 months later, when Ellie was 9 months old. Ellie had a skin prick test which came back as suspected, a positive allergy to dairy and eggs. We saw a Dietician who gave us tips on how to get calcium into her diet without the need for dairy.
I found it really stressful at the beginning. I hated going food shopping as it now took twice as long as I spent half the time reading ingredients lists on the backs of packets. I didn’t enjoy going out spontaneously as I felt unprepared if I hadn’t spent time going through the allergy menu beforehand on line. I didn’t enjoy going to friends houses as was always worried that Ellie would pick something up that she was allergic to. I did miss foods that I enjoyed, cheese and puddings were the worst for me! I spent a while trialling different milk alternatives until I found one that didn’t make my tea look or taste horrible. I was finding myself making a cup of tea, taking a few sips and then leaving it as it wasn’t how tea tasted in my mind. Then I discovered Oat milk! The first dairy alternative that actually made a decent cuppa!
I did find myself a little bit sucked into the “Free From” sections at the Supermarkets. You start to feel that you need to find dairy / egg free alternatives, but actually, I soon realised that these were highly marked up in price, and actually a lot of it was not needed. My 9 month old baby did not need dairy free pasta sauce, I made this myself anyway. She also didn’t need dairy and egg free biscuits, my eldest daughter didn’t eat biscuits until she was over 3.
I looked at what we were eating as a family, as some days I would be cooking three different meals, one for Ellie and me, one for my eldest daughter and a variation of my dinner for my partner. This was crazy! No wonder I was stressed. I decided that we would all change the way we ate, and the foods we bought. We didn’t need butter, margarine AND a dairy free alternative. We all switched to the dairy free alternative, and although my partner could obviously tell it wasn’t butter, he was happy with the taste. We have in time all switched (most of the time) to dairy free cheese (made with soya and coconuts) and there have been no complaints.
I found that a lot of the pre-made baby pouches and baby pudding pots had milk in, and so there was only a limited amount that Ellie could have. As much as I try to make home-made meals, I am not ashamed to say that some days after 3 night shifts or 2 long days, I reached for the micro baby meal for convenience. However, Ellie started to refuse anything that had to be fed by a spoon as she wanted to do everything herself (second child syndrome!), and baby food (usually red / brown in colour) + a 9 month old + independent feeding + a cream carpet in a rented house = stress levels I could not contend with! So, we turned to “baby led weaning”. This was new to me! I hadn’t gone down this route with my first, but, it worked for Ellie. She was happier eating and doing it all herself, which in turn made us happy, and meal times much easier. I remember seeing a poster advertising “food for fun until one”, and this really hit home. All Ellie really needed was to try different textures and tastes and she didn’t need eggs and dairy for this. She was happy with chunks of vegetables, little strips of meat or chunks of fish. Puddings were always fruit based, sometimes just pieces of fruit, fresh or sometimes tinned. I also started to make my own yoghurts for her with soya plain yoghurt, blended with whatever fruit I had available, cheaper than free from yoghurts and not filled with sugar.
I found that people didn’t always get how serious the allergies could be, and sometimes felt quite isolated and that family and friends thought I was causing a drama when I said we couldn’t eat something. I initially felt like an inconvenience to the staff if we went out for a meal, but I have gotten over that. I do still like to have a look of the menu before we go somewhere, just so I am prepared, but more often than not, we are ok. We have had a few mild reactions, that when we traced meals back, we realised were things I had eaten unknowingly when I was breastfeeding. I had no idea that egg whites were used in the filtering process in some red wines. It took me a while, but once I got to grips with what products were my “safe” products, things did get easier. I stopped breastfeeding when Ellie was 13 months old, and she made the switch to Oat milk without any fuss.
I found a lot of support in social media groups and being able to bounce ideas off of other people for meal ideas and sometimes just knowing how you were feeling about the whole thing. Ellie is 18 months old now, she is still allergic to dairy and eggs, we are hoping she will one day grow out of it. She has a good diet of vegetables, fruit, meat and fish, and we are happy that she gets all she needs.
Kirstie Allen is a Mother of 2 and co-owner of PBB Events
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