Managing food allergies can be an overwhelming task. It’s hard enough to try and manage at home, forget going out to a restaurant. Or, even worse, a birthday party. Often, you will get comments such as, “I could never” or “what do you even feed them” or “oh my gosh that must be so hard” by well-meaning parents who don’t understand the struggle.
Over time, though, you will soon become a pro at managing your child’s allergies in (nearly) all situations.
My daughter was born with a dairy allergy. At birth, she could not keep milk based formula down, even the lactose-free formulations. Maybe your child doesn’t have this specific allergy, but there always seems to be a need to add a qualifier when explaining to other people: She isn’t allergic to lactose. She is allergic to milk protein, so lactose free doesn’t work for us. Sound relatable?
The easiest way I’ve found to manage her food allergy is by being pro-active with her health and nutrition. Here are some suggestions based on personal experience with my kiddo that has helped manage her food allergy from birth.
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Engage Your Pediatrician Immediately
I absolutely love our pediatrician and she helps us navigate all sorts of situations. Before speaking with her, I didn’t know what kind of formula was safe for a child with a milk allergy, or what to transition her to after she weaned from the bottle.
Our pediatrician was the one we relied on to guide us to healthy alternatives and provide ample information on where to find additional resources. Yours may also guide you to different specialists who can help.
Research, Research, Research
The pediatrician provided a starting point. Then it was up to us to dig deeper. This included finding support groups for people of all ages with the same food allergy, or mom groups, or current research, or even just Googling.
What is the difference between lactose intolerance and a milk protein allergy? What are the different names of milk proteins? (I’ll give you a hint, there are a ton of words for “milk.”) What are safe brands of food I can purchase?
Once you’re armed with the knowledge of this allergy and how it will affect your child, you will be prepared to tackle bigger situations. Now, navigating the grocery store won’t feel so unmanageable.
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Navigating Social Situations
Eventually, your child will leave their food allergy safe space. Trying a new restaurant for the first time? No problem. Check their menu ahead of time and call ahead if you’re still not certain. Occasionally, they cannot accommodate. Verify if you can bring your own food.
Daycare was a whole different nightmare. Ours had a set menu, and we had to bring all of our kiddo’s own food (of course there was no relief on our bill, but I digress).
Additionally, we needed a prescription for food exceptions updated yearly. This goes back to maintaining a good relationship with your pediatrician.
Make sure to include questions about food and food prep in your initial interviews with each facility. Same with school! We even stocked our daughter’s kindergarten teacher with shelf stable snack options.
Inevitably, there will be birthday parties. It was always very awkward when I didn’t know the parents hosting, but I also couldn’t send my child into a situation where there would be no options for her. It is okay to ask. Shoot a quick text to the host and see if they will have allergy friendly options or if it is okay to bring your own.
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Education and Awareness Are Vital
As soon as your child is able to comprehend, inform him or her of the allergy and what will happen if he or she consumes that product. Obviously, reactions vary, but it is important that your child is also in control of their health and wellbeing because us parents will not always be there.
Also, make sure all your family, friends, babysitter, and whoever else may come in contact with your child is aware of the allergy and how to respond if the food item is accidentally ingested.
You will learn what is best for your family when dealing with food allergies. It may be an evolving process, and that’s okay, too. At the end of the day, remaining proactive in your care will help support your child and help them remain included as often as possible.
Arming them with the knowledge they need to advocate for themselves when you aren’t there may help you feel more at ease in different social situation. As overwhelming as it may seem at first, you will learn to navigate this reality.