From the first night home, we knew there was something wrong with our new baby boy. He was good at breastfeeding, we both were. He drank deeply, frequently, sometimes for hours on end. But, he was so unhappy.
Having had a reflux baby first time round, we steeled ourselves for a repeat. After every feed, I expected wind, vomit and stress. It never came. Instead, we had violent head twisting, side to side, on return to the moses basket, constant clawing at his poor little face, and a swollen, hard stomach. Every baby is different, we thought, and pressed on.
He was so miserable. I was so miserable. He rarely stopped his low-level, high-pitched cry. We mixed fed from about week seven, and I pumped. There was no peace for all of us. I tried so hard to keep thinking it was just a phase, nothing wrong. And then what we thought was baby acne began to progress. I’m sorry if you find these pictures hard to look at. Looking back on how bad things got, he was so brave, and is so lovely.
When he was about four months old, I started taking him to the doctor about his skin. It ranged from blister-like spots around his mouth, to yellowing, waxy lumps around his cheeks and ears. The back of his head was raw and starting to get bloody. The small patch on his sternum of angry skin got bigger and took over his arms, back and shoulders at its worst. The doctor diagnosed a fungal infection and baby eczema.
The creams cleared it, then it returned, over and over again. We tried: Epaderm, hydrocortisone, Daktarin, Aveeno, Oilatum, porridge in socks in the bath, Lucas’ pawpaw ointment, and Eumovate. We went to the doctor seven times in seven weeks. Each time, I tried, falteringly and badly, to enquire as to whether it might be an allergy. The doctor chose not to hear me.
At six months, we began weaning, which went brilliantly from the start, he loves his food. One evening, he was screeching in pain, clearly coming from his abdomen, and his skin was red and raised from the crotch upwards. The lightbulb moment was that he had had a couple of breastfeeds, plus baby rice pudding, and baby cauliflower cheese. And I had had scrambled eggs for breakfast that day.
We went back to the doctor, who refused to refer us to a consultant because he said we’d never discussed the skin problems being an allergy. So we decided to forge our own path to wellness for our son.
At this point, I imagine those of you with allergy children are aghast – how could we have not done something sooner? What were we waiting for? Well, we were confused, miserable, shocked, coping day to day, and being told by almost everybody that he would just grow out of it.
So, here’s the path we took:
My first port of call was the paediatric osteopathy specialist, Jenny, at Wells Road Osteopaths. Talk to anybody whose children have benefited from osteopathy, and you’ll get my reasoning here. Hands down, Jenny was THE most sympathetic healthcare professional we saw during this period. She is utterly lovely and didn’t make me feel like a fool. Safe in her warm, gentle hands, my boy unfurled his body and mind and was a different baby after just one session. Jenny detected blockages in his abdomen and some stress points there too, as well as alerting me to his very raised lymph nodes, which are a sure-fire sign that a child is fighting an infection you can’t otherwise see. She also explained that often, in children, skin complaints are the wellness equivalent of wearing your heart on your sleeve – they show you that something else is wrong.
We were confused about conventional allergy testing, but our nanny mentioned that Neal’s Yard Therapies offers allergy testing by Kinesiology. We headed to the Neal’s Yard in Bath (ok, I’ll be honest, any excuse here, I bloody love their Rose and Geranium range) and a therapist tested the baby’s reactions to various foods, metals and liquids by testing my energy and resistance levels when holding both him, and the object. It sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? But, with only a very basic background in why we were there, the therapist was able to diagnose a likely intolerance to dairy products, oats, and a slight reaction to his formula milk. I left feeling a mixture of guilt, relief, and woeful regret at the last six months of parenting.
She suggested I try a probiotic powder in his food to correct the balance of his tummy, and also prescribed some Red Chestnut Rescue Remedy for his sad temperament. We got to work administering both straight away. Within about four days, his bowel movements became more normal, and regular. Previously, they had been almost non-existent, very watery, and painful.
As our GP wouldn’t refer us to a consultant, we decided to pay to go privately at Spire Hospital in Clifton, which is the go-to place for such help in Bristol. We were given a choice – gastroenterologist or dermatologist, and we chose the former, seeing Mr Basude.
Mr Basude was brisk, friendly, authoritative and very helpful. Without too much examination, he reassured me that my son was intolerant to dairy, but not allergic, and that with dietary control, he would recover and his condition become manageable. He did suggest that eventually, he may grow out of these allergies.
He suggested, given my imminent return to work and my plans not to breastfeed into that, that I should stop soon, as although Aptamil contains dairy, it was being tolerated by the baby’s system.
We moved immediately to a diary-free weaning diet, and I gave my boy his last breastfeed. Within four days, he was a different baby. His skin cleared, his smile widened.
There was one big bump in the road to come. The consultant had suggested that I try him on small quantities of other foods that he might be allergic to, in a safe environment, to ensure they could also be eliminated if necessary. One small bite of scrambled egg saw him come up in welts across his face immediately, and vomiting within 20 minutes.
This led to the realisation that the past six months’ pain for him had been largely down to me. I was on Slimming World for 15 weeks of his baby days, eating at least two eggs a day. Poor baby.
As he gets older, we’ll be looking into the Milk Ladder as a way of introducing diary, and just taking things day by day. There are a couple of things with powdered mil extract in which have so far caused no reaction, like baby biscotti. He eats a very healthy diet, full of calcium, protein and lots of fruit and vegetables. His favourite food is chicken casserole, banana, and malt loaf.
This needs to be sanctioned by your GP, but it is possible to give an under one liquid Piriton in times of allergic reaction. I carry some everywhere, and, when his skin is particularly bad, we give him some overnight.
It doesn’t have the sedative effect on our son that it does on many children, but it clears his reactions within a few minutes.
How are things now?
At nearly 11 months, my boy thrives. He still has eczema, and we manage it with Aveeno emollient and Eumovate steroid cream when it’s bad. He wears socks on his hands to bed. He gives huge cuddles. He shouts for his meals. He loves his sister and hairy brother.
I hope this is helpful to anybody whose children have allergy issues.