My Story: Healing a Child with Eczema and Allergies
Updated: Jan 25, 2019
I share our story mostly with parents who are new to the concept of wanting to heal allergies for their children from the inside out, especially when they are being told it's not even possible. I wrote the original version back in March 2012 when my daughter was exactly one years old, but it is updated regularly. Maryana x
I'm sure many people wondered why I chose to breastfeed my infant daughter, given the range of foods I could no longer consume once she had been diagnosed with multiple food allergies. They tell me they wouldn't have done it, that it sounds all too hard. It wasn't easy to breastfeed on a restricted diet let alone add gut healing into the mix, but then I’m not sure anything truly worthwhile ever really is all that easy. It is a precious story I am sharing for it is the one that belongs to my daughter and I.
Our beautiful girl was born in the autumn of 2011 in an Australian city, after many hours of labour that resulted in all the interventions and then an emergency caesarean. Afterwards, I was stuck in a room with another new mum who asked us to watch her baby while she popped out for a ciggie even though I couldn't even pick up my own child but wouldn't let me turn off the light at night time. I was an exhausted and sore wreck. On our second night, the ward's night nurse, frustrated at my regular bell ringing so I could attend to my crying newborn, gruffly suggested I give her formula to help her sleep since my milk hadn't yet come in. I had wanted to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months but at that point – exhausted and vulnerable – I dutifully gave my permission. She showed me how to use a bottle, and my little girl hungrily guzzled 10mls of formula then promptly fell asleep. The next morning I gave her another 5mls but my milk started to come in and for the rest of our stay, the other nurses encouraged plenty of nursing to establish supply and help her jaundice clear. I ticked "mixed feeding" on the exit form as that's what I figured we now did. I stopped at the chemist on the way home and picked up a jar of newborn formula "just in case". Those first four or five nights in hospital were rough for a range of reasons and it wasn't until we got home, that I got some sleep and settled into our new routine of me sitting on the couch, learning how to feed my baby and I realised I was fully committed I was to breastfeeding her for as long as we could. It was a precious time but it certainly wasn't easy because it took me ages to get the hang of latching and positioning, and my right breast hurt a lot for several weeks. However we persevered and I slowly grew more confident.
We noticed very early on that her skin was very dry, especially on her torso and face. Our midwife told us this was normal as babies skin apparently needed to adjust to being outside the womb. I didn't really question this - it kinda made sense. I tried all sorts of creams but nothing worked for more than a day or two. She was alert and was putting on weight and sleeping well so I figured we ticked all the right boxes and would just wait for her to grow out of it - everyone said she would after all. But she didn’t. In fact her skin got even drier and her cheeks started to weep and form a crust, and the warm creases behind her knees and arms became moist and red.
When she was four months old, we decided to move back home to New Zealand and I, the dutiful mother, took her to Plunket to get weighed. We all became concerned when she hadn’t put on any weight over a four week period, a time most healthy infants start to stack on the pounds and were told to immediately see a doctor. I chose a medical clinic that I used to visit several years beforehand. I asked the GP if there was the possibility of a food issue causing her dry skin and was told not to be silly. She was very adamant this was just something some babies had that they’d grow out of it eventually and whatever I did I was never to stop drinking milk - I needed it for the calcium she said. She got clearly frustrated at my questions and said allergy testing was out of the question for one so young. So I left with a prescription for even stronger steroid cream, a booking for her second round of vaccinations already delayed due to the differing schedules between the two countries and a touch of both frustration and anger for how she'd spoken to me.
The problem was that that every time I fed my daughter, I felt like I was almost poisoning her. So as I listened to that doctor dismiss everything I was saying and asking, I couldn't just drop it. She tried her best to make me feel like I was making a mountain of a molehill, and maybe just a tad guilty for not just putting the creams like good little new mothers should.
She had her second lot of vaccinations and within 24 hours, we were at a late night medical clinic with a hugely distressed and itchy baby having a massive eczema flare. Again all we got was recommendations for different mixtures of steroid creams and all my questions about triggers and foods were dismissed although the doctor did suggest there was another doctor in South Auckland who had success with families with eczema by addressing some basic nutrition along with his steroid creams. As I was sitting there asked if anything new had happened rcently, I realised that perhaps the vaccinations could be linked in some way but of course, the doctor was adamant they were not. This was probably *the* point that I realised I was going to have to start learning some stuff on my own.
After the eczema flare, I no longer got comments from strangers on how beautiful my baby was. I was a smitten mama of course who only saw her smiles but looking back at photos I note the large head against a small frame that has the skinniest legs and arms, swollen lymph nodes, cradle cap and weeping eczema on her cheeks. Some babies are bonny, she was not.
So trusting my instincts and doing a little more reading, I asked friends for recommendations for a GP that would actually hear me out and consider allergy testing. I found one only a few minutes away, and this time I requested a RAST blood test (to help identify levels of IgE allergy antibodies in her blood) and explained the symptoms - and she immediately agreed. A few days later my daughter stopped holding her weight, and started to lose. 400 grams in a week, she'd gone from the 25th percentile at birth and was now sitting at the third. She was deemed Failure to Thrive and this created some urgency with Plunket. Luckily the test results came in and showed several allergies. She was highly allergic to cow's milk protein, moderately allergic to eggs, peanuts, cats and dogs. This was a brand new world to me and I'm immensely grateful for the internet as it made researching this so much easier than it must have been beforehand.
We paid for an urgent consultation with a private allergy specialist, one of the best in Auckland we were told and very expensive. He wanted me to stop breastfeeding, to just accept the best thing was to put her on an hypoallergenic formula called Neocate so we could bring her weight up quickly. I could see where he was coming from but it just didn't make full sense to me - how could my breastmilk be 'bad'? He said that I was likely in the 1% of women who just couldn’t produce sufficient quality breast milk but I didn't get it - she fed all day long and had been putting on weight until around four months old - I later learned that often infants begin to show symptoms of allergies between three to six months old even if the building blocks were present beforehand. He also asked if my daughter was exclusively breastfed. and at first I responded yes, before remembering the formula she had in hospital as a newborn. He told me that'd he had observed a pattern with his young patients between early formula introduction and eczema/allergies and I think then I felt the responsibility of "fixing" this. I felt guilty that my agreement to give her formula was what triggered this all, and it was my first defining moment in our gut healing journey and I was both angry and sad for a long time at the whole hospital thing. To this day, I'm still sensitive about discussing our experience there.
He strongly suggested we see the allergy dietitian connected with his office, so we did. Again she heavily pushed Neocate onto us, and told me I needed to get my daughter “hooked” on it using sugar and when I raised my eyebrows and repeated I wished to remain breastfeeding for as long as possible, she tried to tell me I could look at re-establishing it later if I really wanted to (which felt like a total fob off) while giving me a free cooler bag and full jar from the formula company and said we just needed to get my daughter’s weight up first. But I'm not that easily persuaded. I left their offices that day with some type of agreement that I had two weeks to try it my way, and if by the end of the fortnight my daughter hadn’t put on 700 grams, I would agree to fully wean her onto Neocate.
Immediately I cut out the offending allergens from my diet (as well as soy and nuts to reduce the chance she would develop allergies to those) and spent hours on the internet while she slept, researching, reading and asking question after question from others who'd been here before. Emails were sent to grandparents about what this new situation would entail and I did what many do in this situation - I became preoccupied by fear. It felt like food was now our enemy and there was no hope we could do anything about it other than just wait. In a nutshell, I was sh*t scared - but also beginning to deeply question. I'd seen haunted and tired faces of parents in the waiting rooms and none of it felt right.
This was 2011 and the level of resources was far less than what's out there now but I came across the concepts of gut healing and supporting the body to resolve these symptoms. It provided me with much needed hope but it also sounded so overwhelming and the idea of fermented cabbage made me feel ill, so I put it to the side as I got my head around the whole "living with allergies" thing and having to carry an EpiPen Jr and antihistamines around. I kinda expected instant results from cutting out her allergens which of course didn't happen. After a few days of no improvement, in my haste, I decided to introduce top-ups with Neocate. Everyone seemed relieved at my decision, there was lots of head nodding for being a "good girl" and she hungrily drank the bottles. My husband was supportive no matter what I chose but did like the idea of being to sometimes feed her too and it began rather the easy slippery slope! Within weeks I started giving her more and more formula until she was up to three bottles a day. They went down so easily so our breastfeeds became quicker and shorter and I felt I was at a crossroads but what happened next would change everything. She developed a hive on her forehead directly after a bottle of supposedly hypoallergenic formula.
This triggered what I think I had been been looking for - a legitimate reason to embark on the active journey to try to heal her body from the inside out. The next day we began. My breastmilk supply had been decreased during the six Neocate weeks and she hadn't yet started solids, so I breastfed as much as I could and replaced the bottles of formula (high in corn syrup solids) with mineral-rich organic chicken broth for her to sip on. It definitely got a few raised eyebrows while out at cafes - this was before bone broth became *the* superfood it's commonly thought to be today. At seven and a half months, we finally commenced our solids journey but with a gut healing focus. The adventure had begun. Try explaining to people that not only are you eating a restricted diet because of allergies, you're also restricting other foods because they're thought to be inflammatory while wanting to focus on things like fermented cabbage, lots of meat, broths and seasonal produce! Yeah, a lot of people thought I was nuts and I won't go into detail but I felt ostracised by the mainstream allergy community at the time, who apparently now also advocate for these principles but at the time couldn't wait to tell me how irresponsible I was being.
Our entire lifestyle changed and became focused around incorporating wellness strategies that over time would help us create positive shifts. I had done my reading but this was up to me to prove and I knew it would take time. I did love the feeling of being proactive, especially as we quickly began to see remarkable improvements!
It did take a few months for my daughter’s skin to become completely soft and supple, and that was the impetus we needed to keep going. It wasn't just the eczema clearing but getting a real sense that we were helping her to thrive. It's hard to ignore what you see with your own eyes so my husband and I became enthusiastic advocates of these holistic principles, and I'm so grateful for that because I'm all too aware of how many parents come at this from completely opposing viewpoints.
I ditched the dietitian after two sessions because I didn't see the value in arguing with someone who was never going to be supportive. Instead I decided to work with a traditional foods coach who helped explore my education on the power of real food but mostly helped me stay motivated when it all just felt like too much. Instead of enjoying motherhood, I spent all my spare time researching, shopping and preparing food.
It's hard to write the complexity in a few paragraphs but it was a big thing and I probably wasn't all that interesting to talk to back then. I had designed our own gut healing protocol and was putting so much into practice and learning so much. Due to the lack of support from the very group of people I thought would celebrate our successes, I started a new community where members could safely explore how to resolve symptoms like eczema and allergies naturally and today that space has over 13,000 members.
The reality of raising a child in today’s frantic and toxic world where so much of our food is based around convenience and profit, and challenging the idea that eczema is so common it's now considered "normal" and was sometimes difficult and often lonely. A big part of me was angry that I received little support from the mainstream medical system to keep breastfeeding… and yet another part is grateful for it all because I had to fight for it and take ownership. In my mid thirties, I'd finally begun to understand the importance of standing in my own truth and I saw a big gap that needed to be filled when it came to how we looked at what was happening to our babies.
Before long, my daughter was no longer considered underweight or Failure to Thrive. Her specialist knew we had stopped the Neocate and he reserved his opinion other than to remind us there was no scientific research to show diet had any impact on allergy scores, but did acknowledge that the speed in which her antibodies was reducing was almost unheard so that I should just keep doing what we were doing - and I did. We moved into the hospital outpatient system for annual testing but was otherwise totally managing the resolution of her eczema and allergies on our own.
By one year of age, our daughter reached the 50th percentile in both height and weight. Her IgE levels had dropped by around 80% across the board and she was eczema free.
At two, her peanut RAST dropped to zero, her egg was almost zero and so she passed a baked egg challenge although too many eggs seemed to bring eczema in her creases back so we took it out for a while again. I chose to keep her peanut free until I felt it was the right time. Her cow's milk allergy (originally severe) had dropped by around 90%. She weaned at 2.5, a gentle ending that happened naturally, and I am so grateful that I fought for breastfeeding her as long as we did. I know of many babies who truly needed hypoallergenic formula, but for us it wasn’t the right direction. She loved her cod liver oil and probiotics and considered them treats!
At three years of age, she was eating eggs regularly and her dairy score was near zero. She started eating (and greatly enjoying) organic butter daily after passing a baked milk challenge. We refused the hospital's push to ensure she started having milk but a Skin Prick Test showed reactivity to salmon and cashews so we stayed on the gut healing path.
At four, she was thriving with beautiful skin and sparkly eyes. The best news was that during this year she resolved all of her allergies. Still eating a nutrient dense diet that was mostly dairy free (other than butter), strictly gluten free, mostly grain free other than some white rice or the odd gluten free alternative, mostly junk free (as in no additives/preservatives/colours/flavours/HFCS), that really showcased the #raisedonrealfood philosophy that helped to maintain her progress. She was eating foods that contained cashews, salmon, peanuts and eggs with no symptoms, so eating out become a lot easier. It was easy to offer healthier alternatives to treat foods her friends may have gotten - as long as it was something she liked, she was happy! At five, she was a happy and healthy wee spark. Starting school was interesting as she started to notice that her lunchbox looked quite different and a few comments from classmates didn't help which set off feeling self conscious about eating 'differently' which was a big part of her sixth year and there were a lot of tears.
At seven, she is still gluten free and things like lollies are still not particularly plentiful but they do make an appearance from time to time depending on the situation. We've loosened the food restrictions as the focus shifts from maintenance to food freedom and helping her understand how her body feels when her choices slide. We spent the formative years explaining why real food was so important and knew there would become time for her to explore some of this on her own and learn to listen to her body. She drinks raw milk regularly and has the odd ice-cream or other treat with questionable ingredients when her friends are. She has no memory of what it was like to have eczema but loves hearing about how she inspired this work I now do. We both definitely seem to suit eating low carb/healthy fat style at home and I love watching her eat with such gusto!
I genuinely believe all the effort I made, and all the lessons I learned, is what made these results possible when everyone told us it couldn't and wouldn't happen, and it's all those insights I experienced which drives me to help others because watching your baby itch and be miserable is not a great place for any mother to be. I realised that the only way to counter fear and helplessness was to become empowered and educated, and I wanted to share that with others so that they could form their own path towards healing. Our experience inspired the creation of four amazing Facebook communities which I am so passionate about.
In 2013, I studied and graduated as a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and then launched Raised on Real Food, a business where I can combine my love for talking about food (and eating it) with my passion for helping families address eczema from the inside out. My daughter's diagnosis took our entire family on an incredible journey. The concept of gut healing is becoming more well known which is fantastic however the path isn’t always straight forward, so seeking and accepting support, guidance and inspiration to find hope on that journey can be very powerful towards getting results - especially when it comes from someone who has been there, done that, who has come out the other side and gets it.
I work exclusively on SKYPE and email, offering coaching and mentoring services. More tools and resources are in the works as well. Read more in the WORK WITH ME page. I empower clients to take control of their sense of wellness through their day to day choices and help identify meaningful and sustainable changes that can be incorporated to find freedom from eczema, allergies and beyond. This removes some of the guesswork, allowing you to better focus your energy, budget and time. Inspired by my journey, my mission is to help you resolve or reduce any feelings of frustration, fear, guilt, stress, lowered immunity, poor digestion and others, and help to replace them with a sense of confidence, empowerment and action. While dealing with some of these issues can feel very overwhelming at times, I can also help you understand these are also incredible opportunities to live healthier and happier lives as we found. Thank you for reading our story, and please know that if you're in that scared, hopeless and overwhelmed place right now - there are things you can do. You don't have to watch your child itch all the time, and you don't have to listen when they tell you the only thing you can do is put more cream on it. But it takes a first step, and that my dear, is up to you whenever you feel ready. Love xx Maryana