How was your Christmas? Did you have a wonderful time, with plenty of delicious treats and even more lovely gifts of chocolates and biscuits? Because that’s what December is all about, isn’t it! (Note this is a statement, not a question.) Just as much as spending time with the fam and partaking in the excitement of the festive spirit (or mulled wine, I’m not fussy), Noel is all about decadent overindulgence. Alas it’s not quite the same for those of us facing a CMPA Christmas…
Last year I was a bit limited in this regard, because I was pregnant: beyond a few sips I had to forgo the alcohol and I was unable to enjoy some of my favourite cheese. But it was just one of those things, and I planned to make up for it this year in spades!
Is It Really Necessary to Be So Vigilant?
None of us can be sure what triggers anaphylaxis, but we can be certain it’s dangerous and potentially fatal and I’m sure we’ll all agree that nothing is worth that risk. Allergic reactions can start off mild, with continued exposure to an allergen developing into anaphylaxis.
So yes, it really is necessary to be that vigilant.
The health of our babies is obviously non-negotiable and breastfeeding is the optimal way to help heal their gut. So while it’s tough, it’s also a point of pride for us, in doing our utmost to care for our little ones. Removing allergens from our diets is not an eccentric whimsy or trend – a CMPA diet is a necessity to keep our breastfeeding allergy child/ren well. The alternative is to essentially poison them.
There’s only one thing worse than missing my favourite foods and all the anxiety that goes along with my current diet, and that’s when those around us don’t take it seriously. I’m lucky that for the most part, that’s not been my experience – but it is for many people who live with allergies.
There are many ways this can occur, sometimes through a lack of knowledge, other times through a lack of care. For the lowdown, check out this video from Dilan and Me (who’s been a lifesaver throughout this process – where health care professionals have failed us) for the lowdown:
Take it from me: none of us would choose for our babies to have allergies and none of us would willingly put ourselves on such a restrictive diet (except for vegans – more power to them as I’ll be stuffing my face again as soon as I’m safely able to do so).
The Reality of a CMPA Christmas
Every Christmas my MIL saves her Costa points up to treat us to a yummy lunch.
This year I drank hot water. I’m not joking.
She tried her best, calling ahead to try to order something in that I could eat, but it couldn’t be done. And I’m sick of drinking black coffee and fake cake. She told me during that afternoon with no trace of irony that it was just so difficult to find anything I could eat.
A week later we visited my MIL for dinner and she’d cooked a chilli from scratch so that it was safe for me. Alas I was unable to enjoy the cheese, garlic bread, coleslaw, wedges, tortilla chips – and even the wine.
My FIL treated me to some dairy-free chocolate (very thoughtful), and two bottles of Merlot (my favourite) – alas again, I couldn’t drink the wine. I was also bought chocolates and biscuits for Christmas which I had to pass on – and this is the reality of a CMPA Christmas: even when people mean well they don’t always get it right.
I don’t want to be defined by my diet, but it often feels inevitable, and Christmas is the worst time for it.
A CMPA Christmas Dinner
We spent the holidays with my brother and his family, and it was about as perfect as Christmas with children can be. Yes, there were a few stressful moments, and sadly given the time of year there was also too much illness (ergo not enough sleep) with Elfin in particular suffering from a persistent cough which has caused her to vomit at least once most nights. But in spite of that, it was wonderful and magical, and everything you’d wish for (apart from the illness and lack of sleep, obvs).
For our Christmas dinner we went to the local pub. We had high hopes of it being a bit special because a bridleway runs through the pub and in order to keep it open a horse must pass through once year, which it does on Christmas day! Unfortunately this means the entire village turns out for the show; I’m not good with crowds – at all – so that ended up being less fun than I’d hoped: we couldn’t even see the horse through the mob, but we heard the hooves clatter through and then thankfully the throng thinned out.
In the end, dinner itself was nice and I’d say it was a success; but I was apprehensive before, during, and afterwards.
First, I had to contact the pub to go through the menu meticulously to ensure there were safe options I could eat, or that could be adjusted accordingly; then I had to continuously ask the waitress ‘is this dairy-free?’; and finally I had to wait and hope that I would not see a reaction in Elfin.
Except even when Elfin was later sick, I couldn’t be sure whether it was a reaction to something I’d eaten or if it was because she was still unwell. The constant second-guessing and questioning is beyond stressful.
Never being quite sure why your baby is suffering and whether there’s something you could have done to prevent it is a frequent source of agitation.
We’re beginning to wean Elfin now and that adds a whole layer to my anxiety. I’m so conscious of everything that passes both our lips, and more so of the possibility of others inadvertently giving Elfin unsafe foods (an allergy food diary recording everything can help with this). Honestly, for ease and peace of mind part of me would prefer not to wean our CMPA baby at all, but of course that’s not a real option.
Dairy Envy: Cheese and Chocolate Cravings
On top of that anxiety, there’s the more selfish issue of feeling I’m missing out. That probably sounds trivial, and perhaps it is. But I’m not just talking about one or two items – there are so many things you cannot have when you’re dairy-free. And occasionally it really, really gets to me.
For the most part, I’m used to it now having been dairy and soya free for about six months. For those of you who have never attempted this diet, allow me to just give you a little insight into what that actually means…
For six months I’ve abstained from all cheese (that means pizza too), all milk and white chocolate, real ice-cream, most biscuits, cakes, and pastries; I cannot drink real Baileys, some wines, or even a latte.
Every item I once considered a treat is off-limits.
I can’t even enjoy a proper coffee from cafes which provide coconut or almond milk, because milk can get burnt onto the heating wand causing contamination. So I have my milk cold on the side or I drink it black.
In fairness, there are actually some very good alternatives available, and I’ve tried many of them; some I’d even endorse as legitimate new treats even after I’m able to consume dairy again. But mostly it’s a pain in the ass and completely demoralising. Nonetheless, I continue gladly for the sake of my baby. But make no mistake: it is hard. Damn hard.
CMPA Support – It Means the World
As well as the occasional issue with unsafe gifts, etc, I’ve also been very fortunate. I have some wonderful friends and family who go out of their way to accommodate me. I’ve been known to get tearful when I’ve arrived for coffee with a friend and been offered a delicious treat – home-cooked specially so that I can dig in.
I also have a cupboard full of dairy-free chocolate and a bottle of (almond milk) Baileys in the fridge. So yeah, I sometimes wish it didn’t define me, but also it means I’m good for snacks for the next couple of weeks…
Did you also face a CMPA Christmas, or a restricted diet due to other allergies? How did you cope with it?
For more breastfeeding posts, head over to Breastfeeding – Help, Advice, Support.