A friend gave us a pack of unopened Strawberry Yogurt melts. My daughter is 9 months old and hasn’t had strawberries yet. I know some sites say not to give them strawberries until they’re a year old since strawberries could be an allergen, but it’s a little baby product – I don’t see a warning, so it should be okay, right? They wouldn’t advertise allergenic baby stuff, right? It just has a blurb about how they should be older than 6 months old, crawling, blah blah – it should be fine. Here you go, sweetheart!
What’s that red dot on her cheek? Why does she keep rubbing her eye? Oh my goodness – she might be allergic to strawberries!!
This was the start of several very long months of trying to figure out what my daughter, Parker, was allergic to. Babies are hard – they can’t tell you what’s wrong, what’s hurting, why it’s bothering them or what they had for lunch three days ago. Every day as a mom is a subconscious mental log of what they ate, touched, licked, did and hurt – much like a stenographer in a court.
She sneezed – you know, she sneezed yesterday so maybe she’s getting a cold? She’s a little more wobbly walking today – has she bumped into anything? When’s the last time she napped? Could it be she’s walking too much? Too little?
So you can imagine what happened when we went to dinner one night and I ordered my favorite dessert – fried ice cream. Oh man, it was so good – so good my husband dared to dip his spoon in, and of course now my daughter had to have some too. Within three minutes, she’s rubbing her eyes and her face is getting splotchy. We realize – the ice cream has a strawberry syrup on it! We rushed her home, stopping to get Benadryl for her ever reddening face. We were convinced she must allergic to strawberries.
After a while, she began having similar reactions to other things that weren’t strawberries – ice cream, yogurt, cheese – and as we looked back, we realized the two major reactions had not just strawberries in common, but dairy as well. You may be thinking, Duh, how’d you miss that?
I say it’s not as simple as you think.
Dairy allergies, unlike some allergies, don’t always show up right away.
If these instances had been the first times she had tasted dairy in her whole entire life, lock me up and call me unobservant. However, it wasn’t. She loved yogurt, loved getting it all over her face. Cheese was awesome – little golden chunks of deliciousness she could easily practice her independent spirit. We had shared ice cream cone licks (Chick-fil-A ice cream always gets us!). She never showed any major allergy symptoms after any of these. For all we knew, at first exposure to an allergen you either vomit, get hives or some other overly drastic sign. This had never happened until the yogurt melts. However, when we started thinking about it…
Some symptoms may not be drastic.
My husband has had eczema for as long as I have known him. It would affect his knuckles, his hands, even his eyes. My daughter also had eczema from birth. Her pediatrician always gave us a steroid cream and suggested an over-the-counter moisturizer to use simultaneously. She would have flair-ups and we’d have to keep treating these sad dry patches on the backs of her legs and inside her elbows. Little did we know, eczema is a skin condition that typically stems from an underlying allergy. Considering I had been pumping breastmilk for the first 11 months of her life, when my dairy-loving self stopped pumping milk her eczema surprisingly went away.
The only question remaining then is if dairy was the problem, why was the ice cream triggering hives when other dairy products weren’t?
Sometimes not all dairy is created equal.
Parker’s reactions were never consistent. We’d try some yogurt and she’d have an eczema flair up. Someone would mistakenly give her Goldfish at church and she’d have an upset stomach and diarrhea the whole next day. Products that “may contain dairy” (bread, cookies, etc) typically didn’t draw a reaction at all. She’d rub her blanket in a now empty milk cup and break out in hives (#truestory). We also never knew there was a such thing as a dairy allergy, just lactose intolerance. When she’d have an upset stomach or diarrhea, we thought maybe she had an intolerance, but lactose intolerance doesn’t induce hives.
My daughter is 4 right now. I still cannot tell you exactly why some products affect her in certain ways. I guess it’s either the way it’s processed (milk vs. cheese vs. yogurt vs. butter) or how concentrated the milk protein is. She was too young to be tested for allergies, so we just had a mental list of what bothered her and how.
Think your child may have a dairy allergy?
If you suspect your child has dairy allergies like mine, know that you’re not alone and you’ll be okay! Dairy allergies are, thankfully, an allergy that many kids outgrow. As we’ve tried dairy products every so often, my daughter has become more and more tolerant. She now greedily hordes the previously forbidden cheese sticks, butter, and even Greek yogurt! I’m still too nervous to try milk and ice cream, but eventually we’ll keep trying those too.
Until you get to that point, I leave you with two pieces of advice – always carry allergy medicine with you and don’t, don’t, beat yourself up if you forget to check for dairy everywhere. Otherwise, you’ll never forgive yourself running through the parking lot of Yamato’s because you forgot sherbet is not sorbet.