I was so excited to have my son try peanut butter. It’s one of my all-time favorite foods, and I wanted him to enjoy it, too. The pediatrician gave his blessing. So one lunchtime, when Max was seven months old, I fed him a teaspoon of it.
His reaction can be summed up in a word: BLEH. Within a few minutes after swallowing, Max gagged and puked. Then he broke out in hives. By the time we rushed him to the doctor, his symptoms had calmed down, although I sure hadn’t. “Looks like he’s allergic to peanuts,” said our pediatrician. My heart sank.
My husband and I had already gone through so much medical drama with Max; after a lack of oxygen at birth, he’d ended up in the NICU, and he had serious developmental delays. And now, on top of all that, he had a peanut allergy. I felt horrible for him and freaked out for me: the peanut allergy was yet one more issue I’d have to handle.
And yet, as it turned out, Max’s allergy turned out to be manageable. These are the facts and reality checks that have helped, comforted, and inspired me over the years. I hope they come in handy for you.
You’re not in this alone.
Our pediatrician gave us a few helpful pointers about dealing with a peanut allergy and also referred us to a pediatric allergist. That doctor gave us lots of guidance — and answered my one million and one questions. Rest assured, you will have plenty of medical support.
Food companies are doing their part.
Unlike when we were growing up, these days labels on food products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration must clearly identify the food source names of all ingredients that are (or contain protein derived from) the eight most common food allergens, including tree nuts, peanuts, and wheat. Sometimes, labels note when a product has been made in a facility that also manufactures peanuts and other allergens. But of course, it’s best to always eyeball ingredients lists.
Most schools totally get it.
Once Max entered preschool, I learned that schools can be hyper-alert about peanut allergies. Max’s school was totally peanut-free; his teacher even posted a sign on the classroom door that a child had a peanut allergy. There is so much awareness now — and there has to be, because there’s a soaring number of kids with peanut allergies, according to the nonprofit group Food Allergy Research & Education. That’s not great, of course, but it’s heartening to know you are not alone.
Most friends totally get it, too.
It is never a big deal to email or call a mom who’s having a birthday party and remind her that your child is nut-free, and to ask if you should bring your own cupcake or other food. Same goes for attending kid activities or events, going to restaurants, or taking trips. On a recent Disney Cruise we went on, our waiter and the head server knew all about Max’s allergy ahead of time and prepared his food accordingly. Even when we went off the ship, they sent a special meal to the Disney island we visited.
There are plenty of tasty alternatives.
Kids with peanut allergies don’t need to sacrifice sandwiches; you can spread on sunflower seed butter, soybean butter, and even almond and cashew butters (assuming a child isn’t also allergic to tree nuts). All of them are every bit as tasty and satisfying as peanut butter — and healthy, too. Some even come in snack pack cups and pouches.
Your child will eventually learn to take care of himself.
Getting a diagnosis of a food allergy can be overwhelming and upsetting, especially if your child is little. How can you protect him during those times when he’s at school or otherwise not around you? But what’s hard to imagine is that someday, your child will become his own protector. When we try a new food at home or when we’re out, Max will ask, “Nuts?” He hasn’t had an allergic reaction to nuts since he was a tot — and Team Max is working hard to keep it that way.