What I Would Like Non-Allergy Parents To Know

I have two children on restricted diets for medical reasons, one due to food allergies and one due to IBS.  This means I have to check everything they eat very carefully to make sure that it is safe for them.  I know that you probably think that I am being neurotic and fussy, I used to think the same thing before I had a child with allergies.  Thankfully, my child with allergies doesn’t have anaphylatic reactions (yet), but she is still super sensitive to her allergens and if she accidentally eats even a miniscule amount of something she is allergic to she can be unwell for a full week.  For example, we recently ate chips at a soft play (the only safe thing on the menu), but the chips were obviously fried in the same oil as everything else.  Later that day she came out in hives, which were itchy and sore.  They lasted for three days – thank goodness for Piriton.  She also had tummy aches, trapped wind and an upset tummy, and was up in the night crying in pain.  It took a full week for whatever it was to get out of her system and get back to normal.   Just from eating something that was fried in the same oil as everything else.  I dread to think what would happen if she accidentally ate a Wotsit.

Our paediatrician has advised us not to give her any of her allergens for 12 months.  This will hopefully allow the antibodies that cause the reaction to reduce down to a level where she can eat the food safely again.  So every accidental exposure means we have to reset the clock and start again.

In addition my older daughter (who is on a low FODMAPs diet for IBS) accidentally ate a large amount of watermelon last week which caused her to have an upset tummy the next day.  Only a small reaction but still not pleasant.  It was also a pain for me as I’m currently going through a regime of food reintroductions to figure out which foods she is intolerant to, so I wasn’t able to do any more tests for three days to ensure she was clear of any reactions.

Recently my neighbour’s child, who has coeliac disease, accidentally ate two bites of a (gluten-containing) biscuit.  Two hours later she vomited, was up all night being sick, and was quite poorly for a few more days after.

For children who have anaphylactic reactions, accidental exposure to their allergen could kill them.

So I hope you can understand why sharing food is really stressful for parents of children with allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease.  It’s difficult because we of course want to teach our children to share with their friends, but we need to do this in a way that is safe for everybody.

Here’s what I would like:

  • If you would like to give my child food, please tell me first.  I need to check the packaging to make sure the ingredients are all safe.  Some of my daughter’s allergies are not on the list of top 14 allergens and will not be highlighted on an ingredients list, so you have to read every single ingredient thoroughly.
  • Even if you know the food is safe, please still let me know out of courtesy, because if I see my child eating food that I haven’t given her, I basically have a massive panic attack.  I want to run up to her and rip the food out of her hands so that I can check the packet.  For a parent whose child is coeliac, multiply this by 10.  For parents whose children have anaphylactic reactions, times a million.  Also, things can change, she may develop new allergies/intolerances, so please just check with me first to be on the safe side.
  • If you’re not sure whether a food is safe, please check with me first, and not my child.  A young child cannot be expected to for sure whether a food is safe for them or not.  The amazing range of free from foods is brilliant, but makes it harder for them to understand, because they may be used to eating bread, biscuits and pasta at home but not know that it is different from the bread, biscuits and pasta in your home.  If the child is on an exclusion diet and still figuring out what foods are problematic, they cannot be expected to remember everything that is and isn’t allowed.
  • If you are in any doubt at all don’t give it to my child even if you think they might be upset.  An allergic child is used to being told they cannot eat things, they will get over it.  In any case, I’d rather they cry for 5 minutes than be ill for a week.
  • Please tell your children not to share food with my child, especially if you know it’s not safe.  I know it seems counter intuitive as we are all trying to encourage our children to learn to share.  You could just say something like ‘Please don’t share your food with X because it makes her feel poorly’.  I also tell my child not to eat anyone else’s food but if someone offers her a chocolate button I don’t know if she would understand enough to refuse, she is only 2 after all.  My 5 year old has a much better understanding and knows that if anyone offers her food she has to check with me first.

Thank you for listening!  Food allergy parents are reliant on other people to keep our children safe, including your children.  It’s a growing issue, with food allergies and intolerances on the rise, and one I think we all need to be aware of.  If we’re sharing food with someone and I’m not sure if they have allergies or not, I always check with the child’s mum.  Even if I know the food is safe I still ask their mum if it’s ok anyway just out of respect, because they might have a rule of no snacks before dinner, or they might have eaten a ton of sugar, loads of crisps or a whole bunch of bananas already that day and the mum might not thank me for giving their child more of the same.

Have you had any problems with accidental food sharing?  How do you communicate with non-allergy parents?

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