Parents who learn that their child has a food allergy usually experience a mixture of disbelief and fear, especially as they learn more about the repercussions of the diagnosis. This is a chronic illness that can be life-threatening, so the reaction is to be expected. As a new parent in the food allergy world, there are a few steps to take that will help make the first few weeks and months less threatening.
Find a Good Allergist
A pediatrician will probably not have the expertise to properly treat the child or give in-depth advice over time. A good allergist will have current information, will listen to concerns and address them in a respectful way, and will suggest a course of action that is appropriate for the family in question. If at any point, a parent feels that they are not receiving a high standard of care, they should consider choosing a new doctor. The allergist is an important part of coping with food allergies, so if there is no trust, it is not going to work.
Research Food Allergies
Becoming more educated is an important way of coping with this diagnosis and allows parents and caregivers to provide a safe environment for the child. For a wonderful primer on food allergies, diagnoses, long-term emotional effects, etc., consider Understanding and Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies by Dr. Scott Sicherer. In seeking out other resources, look for books that are up-to-date (tests and laws change frequently) and that are written by authors well-respected in the field.
Create a Safe Environment
Depending on the severity of the allergies, the comfort level of the parents, and the needs of other family members, it is important to create as safe a haven as possible at home. This can be accomplished by removing allergens and replacing those food products with safe alternatives. Each family needs to make their own decision in this case. Some remove all allergens and some create separate meals for different family members. There is no right answer as long as everyone is safe and properly fed. Keep in mind that there are numerous cookbooks with allergen-free recipes, as well as creative options for replacing favorite foods.
Create a Support Network
Other parents of children with food allergies can give suggestions for food substitutions, ideas for coping on a daily basis, and information about educating teachers and school administrators. If they have older children, they can talk about some of the long-term impacts of the food allergies. Local parents are great for playdates, as they are typically more understanding of the issues that may arise. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that each child has different reactions to different foods, and each family may cope with those allergies in different ways. Parents should never assume that another person will know how to care for their child unless they provide explicit instructions.
- Seek support online with groups such as the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. They have numerous resources including recipes, allergy alerts, a customizable “chef card” for dining out.
- Find groups that meet in person to share ideas, learn from guest speakers, and encourage a sense of camaraderie.
- Ask about local groups that provide information sessions for patients.
In the end, it’s important that parents allow themselves, and their children, some time to absorb the news. There might be big changes ahead and some challenging times. The best approach is to prepare as best as possible by arming the family with knowledge, friendship, and safe eating practices.