When my daughter was born she was a large, healthy baby. I breastfed her and she hit all her milestones. Towards the end of her first year, I jumped for joy at the idea of weaning my sweet baby girl and starting her on real big people food.
The first attempt with cereal was unsuccessful and, like many babies, she didn’t want to eat.
We tried cereal again another time, and she continued to refuse even the smallest of tastes so we tried other things, but she refused to eat just about anything. She also refused to take any type of formula – dairy or soy. I was unable to wean her.
We tried all types of fruits, vegetables, meats and she refused to eat or would take one bite and spit it out.
The doctors weren’t concerned and she was just labeled a “picky eater” and one to watch as she was slowly falling towards the low end of the growth scale bordering on failure to thrive.
Doctors encouraged us to just feed her food with butter and lot of fat to help her gain weight, patting us on the back as they rushed us out of the door after visits not lasting more than 15 minutes.
They ignored the fear in my eyes or the fact that my mommy instincts were screaming that something was not right.
As a parent, it was stressful that something that should have been natural – feeding my daughter – was such a big challenge. She would rub her face, stick out her tongue and denied food no matter how many times or ways we tried to introduce it.
Meal times were met with stress, anxiety and frustration for all of us. “She’s not going to starve to death,” one doctor assured me.
Eventually we were able to coax her to eat spaghetti and that was all I can remember her truly eating for the first two years of her life.
My daughter also had rosy patches on her cheeks which we were told was eczema and that it would go away. Again, the doctors were unconcerned, prescribed us steroids and creams and sent us on our way with instructions to come back if things didn’t improve.
One day my daughter, being a curious toddler, grabbed a piece of sushi off my plate and wanted to taste it. I didn’t see the harm and, quite the opposite, was overjoyed that she was interested in eating food.
I smiled with delight hoping that she would love sushi as much as her older brother who, at three years-old, proclaimed “squishy” was the best food in the world.
Not so long after eating the sushi my daughter seemed off. She crawled onto my lap and was lethargic and just sat there not smiling, not making baby noises, and her eyes were glassy as she stared off into space. Her breathing was labored.
When I lifted up her shirt and looked at her chest, her breastplate caved in moving in a way that I didn’t know bones could bend.
The internal alarm system that moms have went off with lights and sirens, and I knew she needed to get to a hospital and fast.
When we arrived at the emergency room and were triaged we were immediately rushed to the back and my tiny baby was given a max and started on breathing treatments. They gave her Benadryl and a steroid and told me she was having an allergic reaction to something she had come into contact with.
They strapped her tiny arms to a board an inserted an IV into her arm as she lay there not fighting as much as I would have expected. A shot of epinephrine sat on the table near us in case she got worse.
By the end of the night, we were discharged with instructions to watch her breathing, bring her back to the hospital the next day for more steroids and breathing treatments, and to call 911 if things went downhill fast.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night counting every rise and fall of her chest until the sun rose high into the sky.
The next day we went back for the additional treatments, and received a referral to see an allergist. And just like that a switch was flipped and the room that was dark suddenly became flooded with light. We could see!
After extensive allergy testing we learned that my daughter was highly allergic to seafood, shellfish, all dairy, all nuts, soy, and wheat.
My daughter didn’t want to eat many of the things we gave her because she was listening to her body.
She was not “picky” as the doctors had told us the first two years of her life; she was fighting for her survival. Their suggestions of butter, milk, and Baby Ensure only made things worse.
I think too often the term “picky eater” is thrown around by parents and doctors without any further thought into why a child may not want to eat. Sure, sometimes they just don’t like the way something tastes or are doing typical toddler things, however sometimes it’s more than that.
If you have a picky eater some things to consider are:
Do they reject certain types of food consistently (e.g. things made with wheat)?
- Do they seem to have frequent gas/constipation?
- Do they have eczema or other skin issues?
- Is there a family history of food allergies?
- Do they scratch at their mouth or belly after eating certain foods?
If you notice any of the above, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if allergy testing is appropriate.
While adults may be out of tune with our bodies, our children are not. Sometimes a picky eater is trying to save their own life.