With research now showing that delaying the introduction of allergens to infants may increase the risk of developing allergies, there's been a purposeful focus on "letting the babies eat" - which is a catchy phrase to help remind parents of this important data (links to useful data at the end of this article).
But what happens when fear enters the equation (which it likely will, because fear is a normal emotional response to a perceived and/or actual threat, such as an allergic reaction). When fear gets in the way of introducing new foods?
Maybe you're the parent/caregiver of an infant and want to introduce allergens, but are scared to. Or perhaps you have a toddler and while you haven't been diligent about introducing new foods along the way, you now want to, but find that your nerves are getting in the way of actually following through.
While it's outside of The FAC's professional scope to provide any medical guidance, it's within its scope to offer tips to help navigate the fear and anxiety impacting your ability to follow through with introducing new foods. With that said, this important disclaimer needs to be made before moving on to helpful tips:
Guidance given here is for educational purposes; please consult with your own allergist and/or physician for guidance specific to your situation, including determining which foods are safe to introduce and when.
Now, let's get to 3 practical tips to help you introduce foods even with fear present!
Tip #1: Make "Bite-Sized" Goals:
Especially if you're feeling that you're "behind" on the goal of introducing new foods, you may set such high expectations that you'll get derailed before you even start. Maybe you're pressuring yourself to introduce as many foods as possible, as quickly as possible! But if you find that approach only leads to more avoidance of food introductions, then it's not a workable approach for you. Here's what may help if this is how you're feeling, whether you're working on infant food introduction or introductions with an older child:
We tend to be judgmental of ourselves when we are unable to follow through with tasks we feel we should be doing. This may lead to thoughts of "Why aren't I brave enough?" and "I'm not being a good enough allergy parent!" And once we jump down that judgmental rabbit hole, it may actually feel harder to introduce foods since we're now dealing with fear AND judgement! Here's what helps if you find yourself experiencing self-judgement:
Yes, one big WHY for introducing allergens early and often are to help with allergy prevention, but there are likely other reasons why you're wanting to do food introductions. These WHYs become important reminders that help us push through the times when we're anxious, and help us stay on track when it feels hard to do so. To determine your additional WHYs for food introduction, ask yourself these questions:
BONUS Tip for Toddler Food Introduction:
Start off super simple - by making food feel like a fun topic to explore! With foods approved for introduction, focus on helping your child learn about them. Start by finding books that include the foods and spotting them in stories, pointing them out at grocery stories, and if approved by your allergist/physician, touching them* - basically anything that helps them become open to trying the food. Then build from there! This sets a fun tone for food introduction, and is one way to get your foot on the first rung of that introduction ladder.
*[Discuss with your allergist/healthcare provider whether touching allergens prior to introducing/ingesting it is recommended or not, especially if your child is at higher risk for developing food allergy, or is managing eczema and other allergic conditions].
So here are this week's takeaways:
To read more on the topic of food introduction, check out these resources:
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Allergy moms: I have some not so great news. No matter how hard you try, how diligent you are, or how many plans you have- at some point your child will likely be exposed to their allergen. You are not going to navigate this journey perfectly, no matter how many precautions you put in place. And for many of us, even if we were to get it perfect we would still beat ourselves up. (For a deeper dive on this, read my friend Heather Hewett’s Allergic Living article here.)
Here are just a few things allergy moms feel bad about:
Do you notice a theme here? So many times in our allergy world, there are no good solutions because there are pros and cons to almost every decision. Adding to this is a lack of consistent messaging about how to manage food allergies and an overload of input from social media on the multitude of different ways families handle their own allergies.
Compassion is defined as being moved by the suffering of others.
Self-compassion is recognizing that your suffering is difficult and acknowledging the pain.
You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. If self-compassion is difficult for you, I’d like for you to think for a minute about how you talk to your child about their difficult thoughts and emotions, or about a mistake they have made.
Now imagine talking to your child in the same manner you talk to yourself about those same thoughts and emotions and missteps. As you picture talking to your child the way you talk to yourself, ask yourself some questions:
Notice, Name and Normalize
Get curious about what your mind is telling you. Observe the thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. that are coming up. It is helpful to complete the sentence, “I notice my mind is telling me…” (Remember that you are observing your thoughts, not judging them).
Also notice what is going on in your body. Does your chest feel full? Do you have a lump in your throat? Are your shoulders tight? Butterflies in your stomach?
Put a name to what is happening. Maybe emotions of shame, guilt, anger, vulnerability, or self doubt are showing up. Maybe it is a feeling of deep tiredness. Maybe it is a memory of helplessness. Maybe the only thing you are experiencing is pain in your lower back.
Whatever it is, after you notice what is happening in your mind and body, then name it. For example, “I am noticing my chest feels heavy”, “I am noticing deep shame”, or “I am noticing regret”.
And then acknowledge the difficulty of it. Acknowledge that it is painful. Naming this can be as simple as, “This is difficult” or “This is exhausting”.
When we are in the midst of suffering, it is helpful to remember that suffering is a part of the human condition. Our highly evolved brains are hard-wired for suffering, and the more we try to avoid experiencing discomfort, the more it sticks around.
Although our specific circumstances are not always the same, humans have the shared struggle of deeply painful experiences. In the food allergy space, there are many moms out there feeling very similarly to you. And it is very difficult.
So when normalizing you may say to yourself, “This is painful and hard, and difficult emotions are a universal human experience” or “Humans are hard-wired to suffer sometimes. It is normal”
Remember that this food allergy journey is very challenging, and painful emotions including guilt are common. Please be kind to yourself. You are navigating something that is very difficult, and some self-compassion can go a long way towards healing and living a purposeful life.
Looking for more on this and related topics? Check out:
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