When Food Makes Your Child Sick- Allergies and Parenting

By Heather Mackles, RN, BSN

When the food you’re feeding your child is making them sick, what do you do? One mother, a member of The Leaky Boob Community group admin team, shares her family’s journey with food allergies and how it has changed them. A registered nurse, the author shares some points for families on potential signs for allergies and how to proceed.



It started with a crying baby, a “sensitivity” to my breastmilk, and a transition to soy formula under the direction of our pediatrician. Then it became vomiting, weight loss, and a hospitalization. Eight years later, we’re dealing with food anxiety, rebelling, and a struggle with autonomy. Somewhere in there was a major food overhaul.

Food allergies.

I am a parent of a child with multiple food allergies. We wield EpiPens, Benadryl and a rescue inhaler. We see a pediatrician, dermatologist and allergist every few months. We are one piece of candy away from a trip to the ER.

Food can kill my son.


I was told while pregnant from a lactation consultant that babies rarely have an issue with actual breastmilk. Only babies with true milk protein allergies were unable to breastfeed due to the whey protein in breastmilk. My pediatrician agreed after we had several visits with complaints of horrible crying with no relief and constant diarrhea. He told me that my baby may have a sensitivity to my breastmilk and that it would be in my best interest to wean him immediately to soy formula. There was no mention of removing dairy from my diet first. Now knowing more than I did then, I probably could’ve tried removing all dairy from my diet and chances are strong that would have been a better option for my son. For more on breastfeeding a child with food sensitivities or food allergies, see this post here.

But I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know how to fight and advocate for my son.

When we first got the diagnosis from the gastroenterologist, I made that first trip to Whole Foods. I was beside myself. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Then this saint of an employee came up to me, and asked if he could help me find something. I poured my heart out to him while he helped me navigate the store.

My child, who loved homemade fettuccine Alfredo (which starts with a stick of butter and a pint of heavy cream), now could not have anything that had the milk protein, casein, in it. It’s not a lactose-intolerance. He can’t just drink lactose-free milk and be fine. He can’t have any animal milks, butter, cheeses or whey protein. His reactions continued going up until his diagnosis had only been gut and skin related, but that doesn’t mean that the next exposure couldn’t affect his respiratory system.

The threat is very real.

My son can’t eat or have contact with:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Tomato anything
  • Nitrates
  • Fluoride
  • MSG
  • Artificial Colors
  • Preservatives

We now have to read every ingredient list for EVERYTHING. When he’s prescribed a medicine, or even if I go to give him over-the-counter medicine, I have to call the manufacturer and get the all clear that it does not contain dairy or gluten. Sometimes the manufacturer is closed, or won’t return my calls for days, but he needs the medication at that moment. So I have to take a deep breath, weigh the risks and benefits, pray, and give him the medicine. His allergy medicine prescribed by his allergist? I gave it to him for a month and couldn’t figure out why he was breaking out in hives and having diarrhea. It contained gluten as a main ingredient. Because his vitamins were cultured in milk, but they didn’t list it because they don’t contain milk, he had a reaction. Now he’s taking vegan vitamins to be sure they are dairy free. His allergies have evolved over the years, though he has yet to grow out of any, as many kids with one food allergy usually become allergic to other foods over time.

Every single thing that goes into my child’s mouth requires me to check the ingredient lists. Unfortunately, if something in it is milk-derived, it doesn’t have to list that according to the FDA. There’s a lot of ambiguity when it comes to artificial and natural flavors, colors and preservatives, and transparency is not required. So do I give him the food that should be okay and risk a reaction, or do I disappoint him and tell him it’s not safe? We play that game. Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes I hear him coughing in his room at night, one of his common early symptoms of a reaction, and the panic starts rising. “What did he eat today? Was it anything that we ate differently? Have I looked at our safe foods’ ingredient lists recently? Did they change their ingredients?” And then I mentally go back through everything he ate in the past 24 hours, because reactions can be delayed. His are usually around 8 hours after ingestion. Sometimes it could be anything, sometimes I may not even know for sure what he has eaten.


I cringe when other kids offer him food because he SO BADLY wants to take it, but he does good most days on refusing. Sometimes he slips, but I have to give him some autonomy. I cannot keep him in a bubble forever. He has had to learn how to resist temptation in the most evil of ways. Food is more than eating. It’s a social and cultural enjoyment. Good food brings people together and celebrations often center around food. Many people take offense even, including family members, when we say that he can’t have whatever they’re offering, because we aren’t sure of the ingredients.

My son experiences discrimination every time he’s on some sort of a team or in a group activity. I’ve heard such things as “We don’t accommodate for people with food allergies.” and “Can’t you just bring him his own snack to every game?” told to me by other parents, teachers, and team leaders. But there’s always that one parent on the team that texts me to ask me for suggestions on my son’s safe foods because they want to make sure he feels included. One parent who shows they care. They are the shining beacon of light, and by being able to share in team snack with everyone else, just like every other kid, you made his day. It warms my heart to see him so happy. And it makes me so angry when people blow off his food allergies like they’re nothing.

My child’s food allergies aren’t a preference, they are a life and death risk. I know it is inconvenient, my family lives with and accommodates those inconvenient risks every day.

Our safe restaurants include Mellow Mushroom and Disney restaurants. That’s about it. Going out to eat is another adventure. It takes a lot of time and energy, because we have to call ahead and make sure they can make something for my son that he can actually eat. He’s not picky by any means, but he does have his preferences, and most places either have 1-2 things on the menu he can have, or none at all. Like most of us, he wants to enjoy eating beyond considering whether or not it will make him sick. Most times, the restaurant’s employee we talk to on the phone can’t guarantee that they’ll have a meal free of his allergens. By the time we call around to 3-4 places we’ve selectively picked, we usually throw in the towel and make something at home. We make 95% of our food at home from the most basic ingredients. It takes too much time, planning and effort to go to a new restaurant, where most of the time, the employees are very poorly educated on food allergies and cross contamination. Fast food is mostly out of the question. We don’t even try there. If we need fast food, we make him a safe option at home.

Do I want to be this controlling? HELL NO. I want to let him eat whatever he wants, and I would cut off my left arm if he could just have one slice of birthday cake at another kid’s birthday party. But his diagnosis requires vigilance and I must provide that.

Still, I refuse to allow food to define my child. He is a smart, funny, easy-going kid. He’s never met a stranger and will hold a conversation with anyone he meets. He is good at acrobatics, circus aerial arts, and baseball. He just signed a modeling contract through a worldwide agency. His smile is infectious and that lights up the room. Food allergies are NOT who he is. He may have them, but they are not him. He is Ian, a boy who has food allergies.

And I stand in the background, ensuring he stays safe as he blossoms into his own person.


Right now, we take it one day at a time and we learn and grow with him. There will be more rebellion. There will most likely be more ER visits in the future. There will be times where he chooses to not bring his EpiPens with him because it’s not cool to have special needs. Hopefully that day, he won’t need it, as most days he won’t. Hopefully he won’t learn this lesson the hard way. But there will also be good friends that we meet along the way, and we will cherish them forever.

I went on to successfully breastfeed two more children. My middle child was breastfed until 18 months old, and my youngest is 19 months old and still breastfeeding with no end in sight. We introduced the top eight most allergenic foods at 6 months old under the direction of our (new) pediatrician and both of my youngest kids have no food allergies.

There’s a lot I wish I knew back in the day with my son that I know now. For new parents it can be overwhelming and scary. Most of the time I’m not scared any more, just vigilent. And I’m able to share what I’ve learned. There are boundaries to learn, together we can figure them out. In this post, another parent shares a few methods about food boundaries with her food sensitive child. 

Want to know what to look for and what could be a warning sign of an allergy in your child? Here are some of the most common things to look for when evaluating for food allergies in children:

  •      Rash around the mouth
  •      Flushed face
  •      Hives
  •      Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  •      Behavioral changes, mostly severe anxiety or restlessness after eating
  •      Fast heartbeat*
  •      Face, tongue or lip swelling*
  •      Constant coughing or wheezing*
  •      Difficulty breathing*
  •      Loss of consciousness*
*If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately as these are signs of a life threatening medical emergency.

They could encounter the allergen once and react to it, or they could’ve been exposed to the allergen 100 times before and all of a sudden start reacting to it. There is no telling when or how bad they’re going to react to the allergen, if their body chooses to react to that particular food protein.

Many life-threatening food allergy reactions (called anaphylaxis) happen to kids who did not know they had a food allergy. If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, please consult your physician for further allergy testing. 

If you’d like to learn more about food allergies, please visit: www.foodallergy.org.


Living with the reality that the very nourishment that should sustain us, bring us joy, and lead to health could make our child sick, endangering their lives, isn’t easy. If you get to enjoy life without these scary obstacles, please be patient with those of us who must learn how to navigate them. If you are just discovering that allergies may be a part of your child’s life, you’ve got this. It may require a lifestyle change but you’ve got this. With community and information sharing you can be your child’s strongest advocate and learn how to navigate this terrain without it stealing your joy. 



Heather Mackles is a 32-year-old retired PICU RN, who is happily married to her husband, and stays at home with her three children, two dogs and an antisocial cat. In her minuscule amounts of free time, between changing diapers and homeschooling/unschooling her kids, she enjoys traveling, taking frequent trips to Disney, sewing, and critiquing medical TV shows. She believes in advocating for all women from all walks of life, and loves helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals.

Cut the controversy, Fed IS Best!


Dear Leakies, 

The number one rule in breastfeeding support is feed the baby.


Sure, how we feed them is important but nothing is as important as feeding the baby. With #TLBnourish we’re focusing on how we’re doing that together recognizing that pressure of how to do so can make that more difficult. Instead, we’re exploring the diversity of what nourishing really looks like.

From breast and bottle to introducing solids to the 21 meals a week (plus snacks), there is so much more involved than simply nutrition.

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

And don’t miss out on the amazing giveaway featuring Mommy Moosli, Wean Green, 5 Phases bottles, Evenflo Feeding, Innobaby, and Belibea Bra all supporting you to be fully nourished.

Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, TheLeakyBoob.com


What is it to nourish ourselves- Let Love Flo? And 2 giveaways and a discount code


Dear Leakies,

Around TLB we talk a lot about the oxygen mask principle, that you can’t help others if you haven’t taken care of yourself because you’re no good to anybody passed out.

But that’s often easier said than done. Our society has such high esteem for the boot strap mentality that self-care is interpreted as weakness when it is anything but.

Leakies, we need to be nourished though. Can we Let Love Flo for ourselves? Many of us are quite literally nourishing our children with our own bodies and coming from a place of being empty mentally, emotionally, and physically isn’t healthy for anyone, including our children.

So what can we do?

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, TheLeakyBoob.com


Parenting Broken and Finding Joy


Dear Leakies,

Where are the perfect parents? I mean, where on earth are all those perfect parents?

Because they’re not here.

And I can tell you for certain, they’re not there either.

We’re not perfect parents. How could we be? We’re a mess. And those who say they aren’t either haven’t had kids yet, or haven’t had their second kid yet and still think they somehow mined pure parenting gold from the rich mines of their intellect and wisdom. I know because I was one of them. Turns out it was fool’s gold. I mean no disrespect for you first-timers. If it’s really easy for you, please enjoy it. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that your experience should be everyone’s experience. Because it can’t be. And it won’t be for you if you decide to give your baby a sibling.

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

Jeremy Martin-Weber
Writer, BeyondMoi.com



Don’t Read This If You Don’t Have Time


Dear Leakies,

Happy Mother’s Day Week. I hope it is everything that you want it to be and you know today and every day that you matter, you’re appreciated, and you are loved.

We’re keeping it short and simple this week because sometimes all we really need is to hear that we’re ok.

So, here you go.

You are ok. You’ve got this. You matter. You are appreciated.

Keep loving on,

Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, TheLeakyBoob.com

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

P.S. Preparing for summer travel, we did a chat about traveling with the breastfeeding baby, find Leaky tips here along with info on Mamava Lactation pods.

We’re Paying It Forward- Are You?


Dear Leakies,

You’ve probably heard of the idea to “pay it forward”. The concept is that any kindness you receive, instead of repaying, our society would be a better place if we payed it forward to someone else rather than the original benefactor.

Indeed, it is a moving and beautiful idea and has become increasingly popular. From buying coffee for the person in line behind you to cleaning a friend’s house when they have a new baby, more and more of us are experiencing kindness being paid forward instead of repaid. It has more than the power to make someone’s day, it strengthens us as individuals and as a community.

So it goes with support. In many ways there is no way to truly repay the support we experience as we begin our parenting journey. When it comes to feeding support, this feels particularly true. It is vital, truly essential that we feed our children. How could we ever pay the people that help us figure that out?

The truth is, we can’t.

But we can support forward. Drawing from our own personal experiences, we can provide parent to parent support for the next new parents. At The Leaky Boob, it is #TLBsupportForward that keeps us going. Leakies never graduate from TLB, even when they hang up their nursing tanks. Because we support forward.

Whether your experience was everything you imagined, nothing you expected, rainbows and butterflies, or practically the fires of Mordor, your story matters and you have valuable support to offer others. Avoiding unsupportive support that breeds fearinsecuritylays blameunderminesis self-servingcreates doubt for a profit, and shames, with respect and gentleness, you can make a difference by supporting forward. That difference can build up the confidence of a new mother or father.

And that makes us all stronger.

Feed with love,

Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, TheLeakyBoob.com

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.


…Cause No One Really Gives a Sh*t


Hi Leakies!

Well hello there wall, didn’t realize you were there until I ran into you… with my face.

Unless you are some kind of superhero, and even the they all have their moments of weakness, nobody can keep going indefinitely. We run out of steam. Burn out. Hit the wall.

Sometimes over and over again.

So when you hit the wall? How do you pick back up?

I don’t know. Well, I don’t know what will work for you. No tried and true way, one-size-fits-all option. There are some steps you can take to prevent hitting that wall, prevention is always the best way to go if you can (and we have some ideas for you here) but let’s be honest, sometimes we can’t prevent the wall-kiss.

Here are a few ways I’ve found to recover. These aren’t feel-good inspiring tips. These aren’t cheap spa pampering tricks you can do on your own at home. These aren’t pretty, flowery ideas of warm fuzzies.

These are the raw, real deal when you’ve smashed into a wall and you’ve got to get back up again.

Let it out. Scream, swear, cry, and throw some punches. On your own, away from anyone or to a safe adult partner who can respect your venting without taking it personally, yell about the wall and the stress that got you there. If it helps, drop a few cathartic f-bombs, punch a pillow, ugly cry, or storm outside and release a guttural yell from your primal side. While this could be scary for your children if it happens in front of your kids, if that does happen- because most of us do blow up at least once in a while in front of our kids- they’ll be ok, so will you. Apologize, share that you too sometimes have strong feelings, and work on recognizing your triggers sooner.

Scrub it out. I don’t love cleaning, I’m not one of those people that feels great satisfaction in cleaning. In fact, I hate it. But I sometimes love aggressively attacking the mold that may sprout in the caulking of our bathtub. It is a safe place for me to take my anger out and eliminate something that is just pissing me off.

Run it out. Or whatever workout helps you sweat and hurt and burn.

Turn it up. Blast the angry girl music of your teens, headbang in your living room, belt out the dance beats until you collapse from exhaustion.

Eat it up. Sure, healthy choices would be best and maybe a carrot will provide you a satisfying crunch (hahahahaha!) but it may require something more extreme such as shoving chocolate in your mouth while hiding in the bathroom. You’ll recover just as soon as you pick yourself up off the floor.

Sleep it off. Getting more of this may have helped avoid it in the first place but once you’ve run into the wall and smashed your head in, whatever it takes, sleep. Family nap time. Skip school to sleep in one day… or two. Make popcorn for dinner and move bedtime for everyone earlier. SLEEP.

Turn it on. The T.V. that is. Get yourself some space to deal with the wall you’ve crashed into by letting your child(ren) get absorbed into their favorite alternate reality. They can handle some binge watching of Sophia the First on Netflix. Everyone will recover.

Pick it up. Grab the phone and call or text someone. Maybe even someone you’ve never considered connecting with. We’re not meant to be isolated and I promise you, you are not the first parent to run into a wall. Someone else is right along with you. Ask for help- company on a walk, a play date, or even someone to watch your kids for a couple of hours so you can cry into a glass of wine.

Breathe it in. Oxygen helps clear our head and a deep breath can slow our heart rate and stop the fight or flight response. Breathe.

The wall sometimes turns out to be exactly what we needed to make changes for more sustainable choices in our lives. It can reveal where our expectations are not in line with reality, where abuse may be occurring, where isolation is defeating. After you recover from the wall, taking stock of what got you there in first place can help you recover more than anything else as you adjust accordingly.

Keep on keeping on, Leakies.


Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, theleakyboob.com

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

Are You A Brave Parent or a Wimp? Risking the Mess- Getting Creative with your Kids


Hi Leakies!

Spring Break! Parents of school age children have either been dreading having the kids home for a whole week, or looking forward to it with hopeful expectation. Now that Spring Break is here, many parents can’t wait for school to start again. Even the hopeful ones were grossly underprepared, and they ran through all their fun activities within a day or two. Now what?

Yet other parents are enjoying their time at Disney, or on the beach somewhere, or some other vacation destination full of entertainment for the kids, and cocktails for the adults. Chances are, if you’re reading this newsletter, that’s not you – it’s certainly not me. For the rest of us, we are acutely aware of how many more days we have until the school routine returns with our sanity, while wanting to make the most of the time we actually have with our kids. “Let’s not blow it!” we think. And let’s not forget the work at home parents, who have the extra pressure of still knocking out work with kids underfoot and in their ears – not to mention on their nerves!

How do we keep boredom at bay while encouraging our kids to get creative about play? We have a few ideas for you here.

*This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.


Parenting Advice You Can Trash- Take Your Advice And Shove It


Dear Leakies,

New parent?


It goes with the territory. Annoying, sometimes helpful, usually not, and often completely baffling. Everyone has not just an opinion, no, somehow they’re all experts.

I have one piece of advice to give myself…

Just do you and ignore the advice unless you don’t want to, then don’t.

Ok, I have a second one…

Trust yourself. You’re going to make mistakes but you can learn and you can discern. Trust yourself.

Often, we doubt ourselves and a little bit of doubt can be good, can help us sharpen our skills, educate ourselves better, and double check when making decisions. But too much doubt can leave us completely frozen in our parenting. Children don’t need perfect parents (good thing because that will never happen), they just need parents that are trying and doing so with confidence. (In spite of the conflicting voices in their head!

What to do with all the advice? Pick what works for you and don’t worry about the rest.

And when you’re just not sure, that’s what your community is for. Bounce ideas off of them and see what feels right to you. (Why do moms crowd source medical decisions? See here.) You’re doing fine, you’ve got this.

Keep calm and parent on,

Jessica Martin-Weber
Founder, TheLeakyBoob.com

This is an excerpt from our TLB email, to continue reading, click here.

Why Do Mothers Crowd Source Healthcare Decisions On Social Media?

by Jessica Martin-Weber
women making decisions

People regularly come to Facebook and ask what they should do when the answer is call 911 or go to the ER. Far more often than one would think.

But you know what? As much as it drives me crazy, I get it. Particularly for women.

There are times when yes, someone posts to social media when they should be calling 911 or rushing to the ER. We see it all the time.

You know what else we also see all the time?

Women who doubt themselves to the extreme.

And why wouldn’t they?

Every single day women are told they are incompetent, unknowledgeable, hysterical, and out of touch. Every singe day women are questioned about what they experience as though they can’t be trusted to know what they have gone through. Every singe day women suffer in pain and sickness because their health care providers don’t believe them. Every single day mothers have had their concerns about their own bodies and the bodies of their children dismissed. Every single day women are told what they see in their children and feel in their own bodies is just in their head. Every single day mothers are laughed at for asking questions as though they should just trust whatever they’re told. Every single day mothers are judged for their children’s appearance, behavior, health, and knowledge in ways male parents rarely encounter.

Every single day women question their own abilities and decision making skills because for so much of their lives everyone else has done the same to them.

Hysterical. Emotional. Irrational. Illogical.

When you’re constantly told you’re controlled by your feelings as though that’s a negative thing, when do you learn how to trust those feelings? When you’re constantly told you couldn’t possibly understand, when do you begin to trust your understanding?

In case you’re wondering, we’re not making this up either. Nope, this isn’t just all in our head. Women do experience a significant amount of sexism in their health care alone receiving lesser quality treatment than their male counterparts. You can read about it herehere, here, here, here, here, and here to get you started.   

I get personal messages regularly from moms embarrassed because they aren’t sure what they should do and have been taught all their lives to question their decision making skills. These women come to the group, to the page, and to admins personally questioning their ability to make a decision for their child yet afraid for their child’s safety.

People, often women, particularly mothers, come to social media to get information and yes, even permission, to see a health care provider for themselves or their children because they have been conditioned to not trust themselves.

And then so many “educated” people who think rather highly of themselves and their parenting skills jump in and tell this insecure mother how stupid she is for asking FB instead of taking her child to the ER. They say things like “obvious” and “alarmed you didn’t…” and “how could anyone…”

Once again undercutting these women who believe they can’t trust themselves to make a decision.

Judgmental comments shaming them for not knowing when to call for the right kind of help does absolutely NOTHING to change that. In fact, it makes it worse.

Gender disparity in health care

I get waiting to call, not sure if you’re overreacting or being silly. Afraid to do something stupid that could end in your fear being used to humiliate you or even get you in trouble. I totally get it. There are several reasons I understand why one would crowdsource medical advice, not the least of which is that thanks to crowdsourcing, I’m alive (hello HER forums). Because of this very practice, I was better able to advocate for myself and push for better care. I know I would have died without the information my HG sisters shared because I was belittled and mocked by my OB, ER doctors, and nurses many, many times when I went in for care so I doubted myself every single time. Sharing with my community could help me find my courage to face that again if need be.

Women expect to be ignored. Expect to be wrong. Expect to be seen as silly. Expect to be judged. Expected to be mocked. Expect to be considered ignorant. Expect to have their emotions dismissed. Expect to have their knowledge questioned. Expect to be seen as hysterical, ridiculous. Expect to be treated as though they are stupid. Expect to be judged.

And fear being blamed.

When you see a rather obvious question being asked on social media and you feel that the poster was stupid in asking and should have rushed to the doctor, consider simply telling them that you understand their concern and if you were in their shoes you would rush to the doctor. You could even dare to affirm her. Then wish her well.

Maybe next time she’ll not be so afraid of sounding ridiculous taking her child to the doctor.

Maybe next time her confidence will have grown a little and she won’t need your permission to listen to herself.

judging women posting on FB


Jessica Martin-Weber Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.