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If you had had children like me in the past decade, you may recall a marked shift in the way pediatricians and medical experts talked about food allergies. I sure remember. Sometime in my growing up years, I switched from casually letting my babies try peanut butter in their high chair, to the panic of “Don’t let your kids get near a peanut until they’re two!” And most of the parents I knew then also made the switch.
Well, hold on to your yoga pants, moms, because the story changes again. And it is a huge pivot. HUGE.
First of all, if the past year has taught us anything, it is this: we have to accept that medical science is always evolving. Research studies regularly bring to light new evidence, leading to updated guidelines on how we should do to keep our families safe. And thank goodness we can, otherwise we can all still shed blood to ‘cure diseases’ or perform frontal lobotomies on patients with mental illness or to have our kids roll around in the backseat while driving down the highway at 130 speeds km / h. And even today, the Covid guidelines continue to change as we learn more about this virus, just as other areas of medicine – such as cancer treatments, antenatal care, and pain management – all continue to evolve as well.
The science behind food allergies is no different. And in honor of May is food allergy month, let’s talk about what exactly that science says today.
To recap, sometime in the past decade, parents suddenly started to hear, “Wait! Do not expose your babies to the major allergens – peanuts, eggs, shellfish, etc. until they are older. “
My children were born during that time and I remember flipping that switch in our own home. The first two children (birth year 2008 and 2010) were already eating peanut butter and scrambled eggs well before they were one year old.
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However, by the time my third child was born (in 2013), everything had changed and we hadn’t exposed him to it. Plus, baby # 3 in our house was already showing allergy symptoms like eczema and hives, so we were extra nervous. Two years later, when we finally tried to sneak a little peanut butter into his stomach, it was too late. He had developed a peanut allergy and in kindergarten he was officially branded an ‘EpiPen Child’ and I an official ‘allergy mom’.
Now it’s 2021, eight years after our decision not to give exposure to major scary allergens for the first few years of his life, and pediatricians are telling mothers of babies a very different story.
In an interview with Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician and food allergy expert, Dr. Swanson to Scary Mommy that the new rule around feeding our children is to “stop being afraid of food” and, in fact, be set free by feeding all of our babies. the food. Like seriously everything. Eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, soy, sesame, wheat, Thai food, Indian food, Kansas City BBQ, and Wyoming bison burgers. She’s not kidding.
Dr. Swanson, whose official title is Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, Pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer, SpoonfulONE, is passionate about the food allergy epidemic in this country. Her work with SpoonfulONE, a one-stop shop for educating parents about food allergy prevention and actual, tangible foods that parents can buy to ensure their kids get a varied plate with every meal, proves just how committed they are. is for this purpose. .
And she’s got the research to back up exactly why she thinks parents should expose their babies to a varied list of foods (she even recommends 100 new foods in 100 days!), Why she says, “Slower exposure isn’t the best thing about it. our baby. interest, ”and why we should overcome our fear of food and expose our babies to peanuts, eggs, shellfish, soy, milk, sesame, wheat… and everything else as early as possible.
Listen, Dr. Swanson and the rest of the pediatric world all know this is big. “We reverse the guidelines. We’re blowing the roof off, ”she tells Scary Mommy. She also admits that she was one of many pediatricians who gave the “wait until two” advice years ago, but that they were wrong, and now they know better and can advise us better.
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In a conversation with Scary Mommy, Dr. Swanson referred to many clinical studies that have shown the importance of introducing babies to a variety of foods at an early stage, including those with allergens. One such study, published in 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed babies from four months to five years. Half of the children were given peanuts three times a week and the other half were not exposed at all. The results were groundbreaking. The early introduction of peanuts into babies’ diets reduced their chances of developing an allergy by 86%. That study really changed the story of food allergies and children.
The fact is that our country is fighting a food allergy epidemic. Six million American children have a food allergy. That’s 8% of the children in this country – a number that has doubled in recent years. Six million children living in fear, whose parents live in fear, of an allergic reaction. Six million children who may be bullied, teased or miss out on experiences to avoid potentially dangerous exposure to food.
And if we don’t do something, that percentage will only increase. As Dr. Swanson explains, there is no cure for food allergies, even though treatments like oral immunotherapy show promise. The key, therefore, is prevention. And exposing our babies to allergens – in their gut – early is how we do it.
“70% of our immune system is in our gut,” explains Dr. Swanson, so getting those allergens into a baby’s belly, as opposed to just the skin, is essential so that the immune system learns how to deal with them. go and endure them. , and break them down.
And here’s the best part, since we’re all exhausted and don’t have enough hours in a day. Once parents flip the switch in their minds to feed their babies and toddlers, it’s actually less work, not more, as we do now. The new rule is this: feed your children as your grandparents were fed. A meal for everyone. Stop with the “this is dinner for the adults and the kids get mac and cheese and chicken nuggets” mentality. At 4-6 months old, start eating whatever you eat your baby. Cut crustaceans (remove the shell) into small pieces. Give them yogurt. Feed them soy and sesame and wheat foods. Fry an egg or cook one into a pancake. Add peanut butter to their oatmeal.
And, says Dr. Swanson, this part is just as essential: keep doing it. “Day after day after day after day,” she emphasizes. Do not expose your baby to eggs once. Expose your baby to eggs several times a week, every week for months, even years. Same with the other allergens. Make sure their diet is everything, time after time.
But Dr. Swanson also knows that feeding babies and toddlers can be hell on Earth. Therefore, she lives and practices through the phrase “Every bite counts.”
“Toddlers are like, one day they eat five strawberries and a peanut butter sandwich and the next day they eat three mouthfuls of air and you think ‘What the heck?’” She says with a laugh. Because she knows. She knows how hard it is for us to get bites in their stomach sometimes. So make every bite count, she says. Don’t make all those bites of peaches and sweet potatoes and rice cereal. Put eggs in it. Add nut butter. Put milk in it. Sneak those allergens into those little bellies as often as possible to build up their immune systems.
Another major misconception that Dr. Swanson has addressed is this. The food allergy epidemic isn’t a ‘peanut thing’. Only 7% of people with food allergies are mono-allergic, she tells Scary Mommy. 93% are allergic to at least one other thing. So even though we hear the most about peanut allergies, we need to make sure we work to fight the epidemic as a whole – and that includes all allergens.
Because here’s the cold, hard truth. We as a society have caused this allergy epidemic. We don’t let our kids’ tummies learn how to process foods other than mac and cheese and chicken nuggets and cheerios, and our kids suffer.
Looking back, did I my third child (the only one of my children with food allergies and the only one not exposed to allergens as a baby) caused these allergies? I will never know. Some kids are just allergic to things and no one can do anything about it. But I appreciate that the medical community now knows more, and babies and their parents no longer need to fear the dreaded peanut or eggs or a piece of shrimp. In fact, they should try them out there on their Elmo plate and matching drinking cup. Only a few months old.
Dr. Swanson says her hope is that parents and children will be “free from fear” of food.
“Let’s raise babies who grow up to eat everywhere, travel the world, eat anything and everything. Be completely fearless. They can fly to Taiwan, they can fly to Vietnam, they can eat smelly cheese in France, or they can stay in Iowa for the rest of their lives and eat whatever they want, ”she says. And I agree with her. Doesn’t that sound great?
The rules have changed, parents. If we want to educate kids who have the best chance of being food allergy free, early and constant exposure is the way to go. We don’t have to fear feeding our babies high allergy foods, but the real monster is what happens when we don’t.