The Food Allergy Epidemic And How We Can Avoid It: My Personal Story
My Son Walter
Do you ever wonder why so many children have food allergies?
When I was growing up in the 70's, I don't recall one child who had a food allergy. There are approximately 15 million people in the U.S. who have food allergies, 8% of them under the age of 18.
These numbers are nothing to sneeze at.
Food allergies range from a stuffy nose to life threatening anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe and sudden potentially fatal reaction that constricts the airways.
I am not a doctor or a research scientist but I am specially interested in this topic. Since he was a baby, my eldest son Walter (just married at 21) has had life-threatening allergies to peanuts, raw egg whites, and mustard seed.
I have dug deep into the research on food allergies and I have come up with some strong evidence. I will divulge one surprising theory of what causes food allergies in this post and present a different hypothesis in a subsequent post. There are many ideas about what causes food allergies. The fact is, all of them may contribute in their own way. More than one factor may be at work in any individual.
To explain how I reached my conclusions about allergies, I will tell you about the birth of my son, Walter. I will take you through his first year of life and highlight what I believe caused his food allergies.
Waiting for Walter
True to his laid-back, just can't be bothered personality, Walter was born two weeks past his due date. In vitro, Walter was comfortable, happy, warm and well fed. He didn't know about video games or television yet, so he felt no need to leave his snug little home.
I, on the other hand, was huge and uncomfortable. To encourage the start of labor, I tried everything I could think of short of jumping on a trampoline: eating spicy foods, driving fast over speed bumps, taking long walks, sipping herbal teas rumored to induce labor---none of those did the trick.
I was ready. I had taken my Lamaze class and knew all about the different breathing techniques. I had my soothing music to play, my coach's snack (a bag of trail mix---God forbid he should go hungry) and, very important, my pretty pink nursing nightgown with matching bathrobe.
Walter Makes His Appearance
Finally the day arrived and I was having contractions. Not Braxton Hicks contractions but authentic, grit your teeth contractions. My husband and I grabbed our overnight bag and went to the hospital.
out on a limb with no help in sight.
Mistake Number One: Saying Yes to Pitocin
We need to talk about Pitocin because use of Pitocin often leads to Cesarean sections. Cesarean sections often lead to food allergies (as well as asthma, eczema, diabetes and obesity, as we will see).
As it turned out, my contractions proved to be ineffective at producing cervical dilation. Instead of being sent home to wait, which I believe now was the right thing to do, I was given Pitocin to induce stronger contractions.
Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin. Too bad the synthetic form of oxytocin doesn't have that feel good, calming effect that oxytocin produced by our bodies does---far from it.
The attending doctor assured me Pitocin was the right thing to do. I said yes to Pitocin.
What I Didn't Know Then
Pitocin increases the pressure of contractions. Contractions will be longer and stronger with a very short rest period. The increased pressure of the contractions compresses the baby's umbilical cord. With every contraction the baby's oxygen supply is squeezed off. Lack of oxygen causes distress in the baby. The baby's heartbeat rate may drop, which may cause serious complications (such as neurological damage or even death).
Even though the attending physician didn't tell me any of this, she certainly knew the implications. The baby was monitored closely from that point on.
Important information to remember: An emergency C-section is the usual outcome of Pitocin induced births.
I realize that using Pitocin sometimes cannot be avoided. My purpose is to make you aware of the risks of certain procedures so you can make informed choices. It's important that women know they don't have to agree with their doctor. Women have the final say.
A Swedish study showed a nearly 3 times greater risk of asphyxia (oxygen deprivation) for babies born after augmentation with Pitocin.
A study in Nepal showed that induced babies were 5 times more likely to have signs of brain damage at birth.
In my own situation, I now believe I should have been sent home to wait rather than taking the Pitocin. Obedience to authority, however, had been ground into me by years of Catholic schooling. I hadn't yet arrived at the principle that women don't always have to agree with their doctor.
Obedient or not, the thought of having the baby sooner rather than later made the Pitocin option look like the right one.
A Typical Scenario
Too often, Pitocin is administered, the baby goes into distress and an emergency C-section is performed. Later, the doctor is congratulated for saving the baby's life.
Cesarean sections are at least twice as high in labor induced births (induced by Pitocin), as a Canadian studies shows.
You Might Like To Know: Pitocin Hurts Like A Mother
Your Pitocin induced contractions will be longer and stronger with shortened rest periods. From your point of view, this makes a big difference.
Funny, but I thought I would sail through labor. I suppose you can say that I did, only this sailor sailed through a storm, a fierce one. No sooner did one wave pass then another came crashing down on me, with no let-up.
"Drugs! Drugs! Give me some goddamn drugs!" I shouted.
All of my Lamaze training did nothing to prepare me for what I endured. I didn't care about soothing music, massages, walking, body positioning, not even the focused breathing techniques I had practiced so diligently. As for my pretty pink nursing nightgown with matching bathrobe---forget about it.
Finally, they gave me some drugs.
No Turning Back
Mistake Number Two: Epidural Anesthesia
Thanks to Pitocin, my epidural was inevitable.
An epidural anesthesia is the most common form of pain anesthesia during labor. The epidural painkiller is derived from cocaine and it is injected directly into the epidural space (spinal column).
Epidurals may be necessary at times, but they are best to avoid if possible. Perhaps if I hadn't had Pitocin, which made my labor pains stronger and more frequent, I might not have needed and epidural.
Epidurals can send you down a long path of medical complications. Epidurals can be harmful to you and your baby, so make sure it is absolutely necessary.
Gravity during labor is your best friend. Ambulation (walking around) is a way of promoting contractions. Epidurals, numb legs and a catheter, however, keep you lying down in bed. Also, an epidural makes it harder to birth your baby without an operation. In the concluding stage of labor you can't feel the final powerful contractions and so you don't know when to push. Forceps are more commonly used with epidural births. Forceps can deform your baby's soft head. Sometimes the head grow out of the deforming, but sometimes not.
Walking epidurals (not available when I was giving birth) enable ambulation. Walking around decreases pain, shorten's labor and increases likelihood of vaginal delivery.
Many hospitals will not let you walk when administered a walking epidural due to insurance considerations.
If you are interested in a walking epidural, talk it over with your doctor before your due date. A word of caution: it is more likely you will get a spinal headache from a "walking epidural" than a "standard epidural." I've had a spinal headache and I can tell you, only a really bad migraine could hurt worse.
Other problems with epidurals:
- slows down labor
- increases risk of perineal tear
- increases probability of cesarean section
- increases probability of inducing labor with pitocin
- Increases chances of using forceps
- increases urinary, bowel and sexual disorders
- increased risk of fever in the mother during labor
Important Facts So Far
Pitocin was administered to speed up my labor, which in turn made the pain so severe that I had to have an epidural.
You should know that the epidural doesn't work in all cases. When using an epidural with Pitocin, it may merely take the edge off. In my case, the only thing the epidural did for me was immobilize me. To quote my doctor, "The epidural is working, I can tell because your legs are floppy."
My legs were floppy, but I was still feeling excruciating pain.
Long Awaited Arrival
Thirty hours later. . .
I was running a fever (caused by the epidural). Walter was in distress (caused by the pitocin) and showing an irregular heartbeat. He aspirated his own stools and, because of it, developed Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. (Studies show a connection between asthma and meconium aspiration.) Bad news.
Bring on the Cesarean section. This baby needed to be dragged into the light of day as soon as possible.
Fetal distress, Meconium Aspiration Syndrome and maternal fevers can occur with or without epidurals or Pitocin. There are plenty of Pitocin induced births that occur without the sort of problems I had. Statistics show, however, that epidurals and Pitocin increase the chance of distress and the occurrence of Cesarean section dramatically.
Thus, for me: jab, slice, pluck, snip, staple.
When I finally awoke from my drugged slumber, I was surprised to see I was, except for the attending nurse, alone.
"Where's my baby?"
At the moment of delivery, Walter had had his lungs suctioned and then was whisked off to the pre-natal intensive care unit without my getting the chance to hold him or even see him. Now that I was awake, and with the help of the nurse and a wheelchair, I was in hot-pursuit of my first glimpse of my newborn.
After what seemed like an interminable time, at last I saw the sweet face of the little boy who had put me through so much. He was hooked up to an intravenous feed, crying in distress.
This was not how I had imagined our first meeting.
I wanted to tell him how much I loved him, how he would be with Mommy very soon, how I would always protect him and never let him come to harm.
In reality, all I could manage was, "Mommy is here." I wasn't allowed to hold him, but I did stroke his little arm.
The nurse wheeled me away heartbroken.
From my hospital room I could hear Walter crying all the way down the hall.
Poor Walter. I'm sure wished he were back in his first home where he had been cozy and safe.
Walter had other challenges to face in the months ahead: deadly food allergies.
What's The Link Between Food Allergies and Cesarean Section?
During natural birth, a baby passes through its mother's vaginal canal. A baby's mouth makes contact with bacteria in the vaginal canal. This is not only natural, but it is necessary to begin the colonization of the baby's otherwise sterile intestinal tract. Establishing the proper microflora in a baby's gastrointestinal (GI) tract is vitally important to the baby's ability to protect itself for harmful germs that make it past the acidic environment of its stomach. Not only do the beneficial microflora take up space on the inner lining of the intestines, thus fending off bad bacteria and hindering them from gaining a toehold to begin their own colony, but the good microflora prevent particles of food from seeping through the gut lining and entering the blood stream improperly. When macronutrients, toxins, bacteria enter the blood stream by leaking through the otherwise impermeable gut wall (a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome), it can result in an immune response that we know as allergies, asthma, possibly even autism.
(See Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's excellent Gut And Psychology Syndrome book for a full discussion of the subject.)
I also recommend you read: Food Allergies Testing For Anger Management In Children
Continued on Part II (coming soon)
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