In this article I will share with you ideas and resources, as you navigate and reduce exposure to your child’s food allergen.
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Motherhood itself brings about so much newness, worry, and stress. Constantly keeping up with household chores, errands, and balancing your involvement while also giving your children their autonomy is a lot to manage in and of itself.
Now for us mama’s with a child that has food allergies – oh dear!
Getting a positive food allergy test result is life changing. It can be overwhelming not knowing where to start.
How do you make the necessary changes to keep yourself or a loved one safe from a life threating situation?
Whether your child is recently diagnosed with one or more food allergies, or you are a veteran mama to a child or children with food allergies, the mental load you carry can be incredibly heavy. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in this journey.
Although now you may have to change your entire method of cooking, how you prepare foods, scrutinize every ingredient label, or mourn some of the foods you love. Getting that diagnosis for your child changes both of your worlds.
This diagnosis causes us to become world class investigators and interrogators to those we know, and to complete strangers!
You’re now dealing with life and death over common foods. The responsibility of this alone can feel crushing at times.
And those around you that don’t get it can be seriously saddening to your mama heart. It can cause a lot of resentment when you expect them to understand. It can even cause you to pull away because it seems that they don’t value your child’s life. That is heavy!
Not to mention all the other things you are juggling when you need to find a babysitter, go out to a restaurant, go on vacation, visit a friend’s house, potlucks (a food allergy nightmare), or attend a birthday party.
These things are an enormous weight carried by a food allergy mom. I know because I am one!
My daughter has a life threating food allergy. We have had to navigate and figure this out alone. If you’re interested in reading our personal story, you can read A Life Threatening Food Allergy Diagnosis.
But instead of just recognizing how hard it is, let me give you some tools that we use to help navigate and live our life with our precious daughter’s food allergy.
8 tips for reducing exposures to a food allergen
1. Start in your home
This is a rule we established immediately in our family the day my daughter had her first reaction. We threw out so much.
It goes without saying, you don’t want to accidently give something to your child that you thought was safe, but then afterwards, realized it wasn’t. So, removing all the threats in your home is the easiest and best practice.
2. Read all of the labels
This seems obvious, however, when we were first navigating our daughter’s food allergy, we didn’t realize we should be reading past the list of ingredients.
Something very important to take note of is the sentence stating either: “Made in a facility that contains (insert your allergen)” or “Processed on the same equipment as (insert your allergen)”.
This is so important because, if your child is like ours, and cross contamination will trigger a reaction, you will want to avoid the foods processed on the same equipment that is processing the allergen to your little one.
Likewise, if your child is so sensitive that they can’t even be in the same room as the allergen, then you will want to avoid foods that are processed in the same facility.
This wasn’t something we realized we had to pay attention to until our daughter had a reaction from cross contamination. Now we pay close attention to see if that statement is present.
3. Make it fair
If the child that is allergic can’t have it, no one in the family can have it.
We are a family, and we love each other. If one has to go without because of health reasons, then we can all go without. It would only hurt our daughter to see us all enjoying something that she couldn’t. We can’t separate and isolate her further like that.
Later, we were glad that we were so strict because we learned that the level of her allergy was so severe that cross contamination would trigger her body into a reaction. We don’t want holding her hand or giving her a kiss to cause a reaction unknowingly so we take this very seriously.
4. BYOF – Bring your own food
In my opinion potlucks are the worst thing to a child (or adult) with a food allergy. Nothing is labeled. You don’t know how careful someone is in their kitchen about not cross contaminating foods. It is so easy to unintentionally hide foods that could cause an allergic reaction for someone.
I have made the mistake of trying to go to potlucks, and boy can I tell you I have never felt more stress about my daughter consuming her allergen than ever before. Especially since there were times that others knew of her life-threatening allergy, but served tree nuts anyway.
It felt like Russian Roulette. It took me more time than it should have to figure out why I was so anxious and hated attending potlucks. Once I realized that it could have easily been announced to the attendees to avoid tree nuts for safety reasons, but never was, the burden to attend diminished and I felt a huge relief.
However, there are times we go to events that have food, and we either feed all our kids before going or we bring a special meal for my daughter. This idea was revolutionary to me and brought about so much peace.
It’s special to her when we bring her own meal because it is something she loves, and special to me because I know it won’t take her life.
If you are in a situation where you might have to attend an event with food provided, or a potluck, I highly recommend packing a special meal for your little one, especially if the allergy isn’t announced or known about.
5. Don’t be ashamed to set an expectation to family or friends that the food allergen needs to be removed from reach.
This one may seem hard, but once you do it, you will be at peace.
When we don’t set healthy boundaries with family, friends, and others, we give them control over us and the things that happen to us. This can lead to an unhealthy and untrue perception of them that can take the form of resentment.
This is especially easy to do when it appears that they don’t value the severity of your child’s food allergy and acknowledge the life and death impact it has on your child in situations outside the home.
The reality is that they aren’t dealing with the burden of a food allergen like you are.
There will be times of complete ignorance or plain forgetfulness.
While this can be life-threatening, I suggest that with those in your life that really make an effort, you take the approach to remind them continually in a loving way.
Here are some examples:
“Hey (Friend or Family member), I know you’re not around my daughter often enough to remember, but I just wanted to remind you that if you’re going to have snacks or food out, please put away all (allergen) or any foods containing (allergen).
If a family member or friend is coming over and bringing food consider this reminder:
“Hey I appreciate you offering to bring a dish, please remember that my kiddo is allergic to (fill in the blank) and please avoid bringing it in your dish. Thank you for understanding!”
Taking time before meeting up to re-educate and reinforce your need to keep your child’s life protected will put them and you at ease. Loving friends and family don’t want to accidently expose your child their allergen.
Rare exceptions when you’ll have to stand up and defend.
Now, there are times when you might have to confront or stop a dangerous situation.
At times, instead of getting understanding or empathy from a person when you tell them about your child’s food allergen, they may question your parenting or the severity of the diagnosis.
In those situations, where others simply don’t want to learn to safeguard your little one – it’s ok to move on and let that relationship fizzle out.
To those struggling about offending or coming across rude, I understand you. These are struggles I have personally felt. Remember, you are the voice for your little one. If others question your parenting or continually don’t make an effort to help protect their life – it’s ok to end that relationship.
If you can’t avoid being around those that don’t take your child’s life-threatening diagnosis seriously, I recommend only interacting with them during non-food-based events. This will allow you the freedom to not worry about your child’s safety.
6. Ask workers at food establishments to get new utensils when cross contamination could occur.
This may seem rude or bossy, but there are times you will have to eat out, or that you simply want to eat out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking your server to take extra precautions to avoid cross contamination.
In my experience, they are always so happy and willing to help avoid a life-threatening event!
7. Teach the child and their siblings about the food allergen
It all starts with a conversation. Going through these things with your husband, child(ren), family members, and friends is important for keeping them safe.
- What does the allergen look like?
- Show your child and their siblings pictures of the food allergen along with pictures of how it is commonly prepared.
- Teach your child(ren) to always ask!
- “Does this have (allergen) in it?”
- My daughter was taught to ask this. When she was very little, she got comfortable questioning her dad and I every time we handed her food. I would make her breakfast and wouldn’t hand it over until she asked. “Mommy does this have tree nuts in it?” I would smile and say “Good job asking baby! No, it is safe to eat!” Her younger siblings all ask now as well whenever we go out or are buying something new from they store. They are involved in safeguarding their sister!
- If your child is old enough, teach them how to read their own labels.
- We started doing this even before she could read. I would show her on a package and point out and say see this group of letters. If it says this on anything you want to eat you are allergic to it. Quickly she recognized those letters and could identify them on her own.
- Explain what foods are likely to contain the allergen. Then give your child many examples of these foods.
- For example, our daughter knows that fall foods and granola bars are likely to contain tree nuts.
The more you empower your child(ren) the more peace you will have. Then you will not be the only eyes scanning and ensuring it is safe.
8. Heaven forbid, but have a plan if an incident arises
Make sure everyone knows where the EpiPens are and how to use them. Have multiple EpiPens in safe places that are easy to access quickly if need be. However, be sure to keep them out of reach of little children.
We have trainer EpiPens that we practice with. I think this is important to do because in the chance you have to use it, your adrenaline may be high. You want to be familiar with how to administer that medicine quickly and effectively to preserve life.
If you are leaving your child with grandma or a sitter, ensure they also know how to access it quickly and administer effectively.
Be sure that the sitter knows that if epinephrine is administered that they need to call 911 immediately since this is the course of action after an EpiPen is given.
Remember, no one is going to safeguard your child like you do. You are their parent and you have to lead the way for their safety.
If those in your circle don’t take it as serious as a loaded gun, they are not your people, and that’s ok. You will find your people. It will take time, they are out there.
Carrying this burden is enough in and of itself. You don’t need to include people in your life that don’t take it as seriously as it is.
Resources to dig a little deeper
- Kids with Food Allergies: a great online community with many articles, recipes, and tips to support families with food allergies.
- Financial Assistance for Epi-Pens: information about programs that offer financial assistance when prescribed Epi-Pens.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: another great resource with articles, research, programs, and reports supporting families with food allergies.