if only I had known.

When my son was two weeks old, he began to break out in eczema all over his face and ears. I was told that it was just baby acne and that it would resolve on its own. This, of course, was not the case.

The eczema persisted and it began to crack, weep, ooze and bleed. I look back on the photos and it pains me to think how uncomfortable it must have been for him. We put long socks on his hands under his cuffed sleeper to prevent him from scratching and further damaging his skin. I tried dozens of lotions and creams to no avail.

I pressed on, asking the doctors and nurses what to do. Try Glaxalbase and infrequent baths, I was told. I obeyed, wondering what I was doing wrong that it wasn’t helping at all. Many months later, it took a prescription strength hydrocortisone and frequent baths to clear up his skin. If only I had known.

When my son was six weeks old, he had bright red blood in his diaper. You can only imagine how terrifying it is for a nervous first-time parent to discover that during a diaper change. Panicked, I called the doctor immediately. I even saved the diaper.

Online research indicated that bloody stool could be an indicator of milk protein allergy. I was primarily nursing, but he also received a supplement of formula from time to time so that I could sleep (not surprisingly, he slept in 1-2 hour increments and this took its toll on me). I had noticed that he seemed congested after drinking the formula, which further fueled my concerns whether the formula- and milk in my own diet- agreed with him.

The first doctor I saw, filling in for my GP while on leave, was brusque and completely unhelpful – making me feel foolish for saving the diaper by refusing to so much as look at it. He basically blew off my concerns completely. I sought a second opinion at walk-in, and then a third opinion with my own GP.

Repeatedly, I was told that it must be due to an anal fissue from frequent stooling. Repeatedly, I was told that allergies are ‘extremely rare’ and that since he was gaining weight well, it ‘could not’ be an allergy problem. All of this, in spite of his clear atopic tendencies as evidenced by his severe eczema. And so, I listened to the doctors and pushed my concerns aside. If only I had known.

When my son was four months old, he had an anaphylactic reaction after consuming milk-based formula. I was sleeping when I heard the most horrific, distressed sounding cry come from his nursery where he was being given a bottle. I ran in and picked him up in my arms. He turned blue-white and went unresponsive. I was sure he was dying. We called 911. It took 12 of the most painful minutes of my life for EMS to arrive. While we waited, he started to breathe again, shallowly at first, and then normally. He slowly regained his colour and by the time the paramedics arrived, he appeared to have recovered.

A reaction such as his is typical of the severe and extremely dangerous drop in blood pressure that occurs during anaphylaxis. Some anaphylaxis will self-resolve, as his did, but there’s no way to know which will and that is why it is important to administer epinephrine every time. However, I did not know this at the time and the EMTs seemed to think it was a “breath holding” incident due to him being upset even though I explained that I thought it was linked to his formula consumption. For reasons I cannot understand today, I agreed with their recommendation to keep him home and follow up with his doctor in the morning. I am so thankful that his reaction did not progress and that he did not experience a rebound (biphasic) reaction.

His pediatrician seemed to accept the EMTs’ breath holding explanation. I did not. By this point, I was convinced that the formula was a problem even if no one else agreed. We didn’t give it to him again.

When my son was seven months old, he had an allergic reaction to baby food. He began to vomit and his face grew swollen and red. He was screaming and in a great deal of distress. Knowing how long it took the ambulance to arrive last time and factoring in the additional time to get to the hospital, we opted to drive him to the emergency room ourselves. My husband sped down the freeway while I sat in the backseat with the baby, both the baby and I in hysterics while I begged my son to hang on until we could get him help. Again, I thought he was dying.

I rushed him into the ER triage area where he proceeded to vomit on the floor. Although we were seen quickly, the doctor on call acted like it was not a big deal and simply administered Benadryl. In retrospect, the involvement of multiple body systems makes me question whether this was appropriate – a reaction involving two or more body systems calls for epinephrine. Again, I was fortunate that his reaction resolved.

Finally, it was undeniable that my baby had food allergies. His pediatrician sent him for allergy bloodwork and tested him in a ‘scattershot’ manner for milk, egg, fish wheat and soy– even though he had consumed wheat with no problems and had never tried soy. Testing in such a manner can (and did) lead to the unnecessary avoidance of foods due to a high incidence of false positives. If only I had known.

The only negative result was fish. I was devastated. Not having an allergist’s interpretation of his test results, I cut wheat out of his diet and we avoided soy. I slowly continued to introduce more foods into his diet with mixed results. His uncontrolled, severe eczema made it difficult to tell whether he was experiencing a skin reaction because his skin was perpetually flaring, red and angry. Plus, the behavior of a fussy baby who doesn’t like a food can be difficult to distinguish from a baby experiencing a milder allergic reaction.

His pediatrician continued to be rather nonchalant about his issues and seemed to think she was capable of handling them. I disagreed, and felt he needed to be under the care of a specialist. I obtained an allergist referral from my GP.

Due to his young age and the severity of his reactions, we were able to obtain an appointment within a relatively short time. I was overcome with relief. I thought surely, we would finally get some answers. We would be able to understand what was going on with him. If only I had known.