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My mission to prevent food allergy in my third child

Nali anti allergy strategy dogWhen we decided to try for a third child I was willing to do anything to avoid the onset of allergies for the baby.  Life had become very complicated after my second-born was diagnosed with serious allergies at an early age (at risk of anaphylaxis to dairy, eggs, nuts and sesame). 

I began by finding out as much as I could about why allergies develop in the first place, with particular focus on the five Ds described by allergists: Vitamin D, Dogs, Dirt, Diet and Dry Skin

My strategy was to:

  • take positive steps recommended by professionals;

  • avoid contributing factors;

  • reverse as many factors as I could from my second pregnancy; and

  • replicate the circumstances of my first pregnancy (since my first-born has no allergies).

The end result?  A home-made “Anti-Allergy” regime with the following key steps:

  • Improved Vitamin D levels for mum and baby:

Step one was taking Vitamin D supplements for at least 3 months before the pregnancy (and whilst breastfeeding).  I also sought to safely increase my Vitamin D levels naturally in the sun.  (My second child had been conceived when I was low in Vitamin D - I had been working in an office all winter with virtually no sun exposure.)  In the months following birth, we also gave the new baby Vitamin D supplements and exposed him to safe levels of morning and afternoon sunshine nearly every day. 

  • Dogs (the hygiene hypothesis):

We got a puppy!  This was something we had been thinking of doing eventually - we merely brought it forward to make our environment less sterile during the pregnancy. 

The puppy was an inside dog from the beginning, so that she would bring microbes into our environment.  It was pretty intense dealing with a new puppy, two kids, busy jobs and morning sickness (and then a new baby) but we can’t imagine life without her now. 

Other strategies to make our environment less sterile included avoiding over-washing of our hands and abandoning hand sanitizer gel.  (Only during this pregnancy did I realise what a prolific hand-washer I used to be!)

  • Dirt:

As weird as it seems, I regularly exposed my hands to dirt.  Because I was too time-poor to “garden” every day, it was often a case of simply dirtying my hands in the garden bed and then refraining from washing them as long as possible. 

I took this step because of the hygiene hypothesis.  I was also aware of a Belgian study that found children growing up on dairy farms have lower rates of asthma.  Since I did not have access to “farm dust” I decided to at least make use of the dirt in my own back yard.  To this day I have no idea whether this made any difference.  I literally did this “gardening” step every single day of my 9 month pregnancy.  I know how whacky it sounds but I was desperate enough to try anything!

(Disclaimer: Beware the risks of contracting diseases from the bacteria in some types of dirt.)

  • Diet:

I did not avoid allergens in my own diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding.  I took a “middle road” approach, consuming them in moderation.  Once the baby was born I followed paediatric guidelines for introducing solids (including introduction of egg, nuts etc before the age of 12 months). 

  • Dry skin:

I kept the baby’s skin well moisturised at all times (with moisturiser that did not contain any food ingredients).  I sought to keep his eczema under control.  This included use of cortisone creams when necessary, always following the paediatric allergist’s advice.  Thankfully his eczema was relatively mild and only lasted a few months before resolving completely. 

Baby number 3 is now two years old and has no known allergies (so far!). 

It is hard to know whether it was this multi-pronged anti-allergy strategy that prevented the onset of allergies.  Maybe bub would have had no allergies anyway.  Maybe allergies will yet develop.  But maybe if allergies do develop, they will be less severe than if I had not adopted the anti-allergy strategy.  Or maybe not!  It is a complex question and I’ll probably never know the answer. 

One thing I do know - I will always be able to take comfort from the fact that, regardless of the outcome, I tried every single thing I could think of to try for the best possible outcome for my baby and our family. 

**

By P. Milton. 

Editor’s note: 

At A&AA we hear from lots of people whose children have developed food allergies, despite trying all they can to prevent the allergies developing. It’s not uncommon for mum’s to blame themselves when babies develop food allergy. The truth is, it is not anyone’s fault that a child has food allergy. Even scientists do not know what switches allergy on in one child and not in their sibling. The intention of this story is to let people know that there are good news stories out there. There is no blame intended in publishing this story. Unfortunately the science is not conclusive on food allergy prevention at this time (there is still more to learn). There is recent strong evidence with early introduction (around 6 months and before 12 months) of peanut butter and cooked egg however other theories emerging evidence suggests and what medical experts on allergy prevention are not so strong. We recommend what believe will help. The story is about the lengths one mum went to and is not meant to shame others.

 

The five D’s theory is explained here: https://www.mcri.edu.au/news/investigating-allergies-food-allergy-capital

Content created June 2019

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