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Eczema

We’ve been back in Melbourne a week now. I have such mixed feelings being here. It’s our home but I have never completely felt at ease here. And I still don’t. I miss Vancouver a lot, and needless to say, miss our families, both Bry’s and mine.

It’s now winter in the Southern Hemisphere and in just a short week, Benji’s eczema got markedly worse (his skin was wonderfully glowing in Asia, especially in humid Singapore). Lots of other new Benji developments have taken place in this short span: he caught his first cold and had a temperature two nights ago. He seemed better today, though is still slightly congested (only really obvious when he’s feeding). He is showing huge signs of separation anxiety, which is manifested mostly in the night. He now wakes up once every two hours and can only be settled back to sleep by me.

On the plus side, he’s sitting up really well and making fervent attempts at crawling. ­čÖé

When we first arrived back in Melbourne, my milk supply decreased quite a bit. It was a rather stressful first few days, from saying goodbye to my family and suddenly being by ourselves again, to having to unpack boxes from our storage and “move” back into our place…But thanks to the kind moms who responded to my “plea” – I did try oatmeal, and also ate a lot more food during mealtimes, kept hydrated, and have been going to bed at around 10pm every night. Two days ago, my milk supply seemed to have return – whew.

Apologies if this post sounds negative – I am still feeling somewhat overwhelmed. In the next week, we are starting Benji at a daycare, and I am returning to work one day a week. We might also start him on formula as I’m thinking of weaning him off the breast. Huge milestones, and honestly, I don’t know if they can be achieved without us going out of our minds given how unsettled Benji has become in the last week.

Other “to do”s in the next week: attend a playgroup with Benji – our first in Melbourne, and look out for activities around town to do with him. Basically, we are starting our “mom and baby” life from scratch: will it be just as awesome as our experience in Vancouver?

So I have to confess: I had a pretty big cry on Bry’s shoulder this evening after putting Benji to bed from all the things we’ve had to deal with so far and potential problems to come. I felt better after that meltdown…but yeah, it’s not looking peachy.

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20120412-080641.jpg┬áIn the last week, I tried some foods containing wheat and Benji’s skin started spotting again. While waiting a few more days to try wheat again to confirm my suspicions, I discovered this awesome gluten-free breakfast cereal from Whole Foods. It’s CAD4.95 and because it contains so many different grains, is pretty filling. It also tastes delicious and Benji seems to tolerate it okay even though there may be traces of nuts in there; what a relief because I was getting quite bored with eating breakfast items containing just rice (like rice cakes and rice cereal).

The dairy free milk option for this week is Flax Milk (uh huh, there is such a thing!) which was on offer at Whole Foods (2 for CAD5.00). I like that it has omega-3 and some fat content (more so than rice milk). It tastes like a weaker version of soy milk. Because it is unsweetened, it goes well with the naturally sweetened breakfast cereal, but that’s about it. It’s probably not something I would drink on its own because it is not *that* flavorful. Anyhow, it was quite a good purchase for the price.

PS: So far, Benji seems to be okay with soy, salmon, and nuts. That’s about two and a half of the top eight allergens. Hurray.

After Benji was diagnosed with Eczema, I spent countless of hours researching on this topic and decided to make a concerted effort to figure out what exactly is triggering his rashes. So far, I am pretty certain that wheat and possibly sesame oil are causing some of the flare ups.

Since starting this elimination diet, my eyes have been peeled open to the concept of diligently reading the ingredients labels on every single food item I purchase or use. Even though I have been a foodie for quite some time now, I have never quite paid so much attention to what goes into my packaged foods and sauces before this. For instance, I only just found out that there is wheat in soy sauce, and in some kinds of fish sauces, and there may be traces of milk, soy, and wheat in the tortilla chips we love that I have always thought were purely corn, oil, and salt.

One of the blog posts I read recently, about how a mom decided to be more conscientious about buying quality food products after her son’s diagnosis of eczema, resonated strongly with me. (Her blog contains lots of good information on eczema and other allergy related stuff go to: www.itchylittleworld.wordpress.com). For awhile I bought only organic chicken and turkey because I was not sure if Benji was affected by hormones or genetically modified foods that were fed to the animals. Sure, it was more expensive, but I had to do it.

There was an op-ed in the New York Times just a couple days ago by Nicholas Kristof, titled Arsenic in our chicken?”. There were some startling facts revealed in that article, like, “almost 9 out of 10 broiler chickens in America were fed arsenic,” and that chickens were fed caffeine so that would presumably have longer waking hours and feed more, but were also fed Benadryl to calm them down because calmer chickens produce better tasting meat. Seriously??? WTH?!

I remember complaining about the high cost of groceries and fresh food when we first moved to Australia from America in 2008. Chicken was the most differently priced meat: one kg of whole chicken sold at the Queen Victoria Market (where one would find the most competitively priced food) is about AUD 6 (USD 6.20 or so; that would be about 1lb for about USD 3.00). The average price for a whole chicken at Ralphs is about USD 2/lb. That is quite a bit cheaper.

It did not completely register that we were paying more money in Australia for our foods, especially meats, because they were organic. Meaning, chickens were being fed grain, not injected with hormones, were allowed to roam freely and not force fed in a tiny, overcrowded chicken coop the way their American cousins are. The epiphany came only after watching the docu-movie Food, Inc, which unraveled for me the darkness of the American food industry and how they are able to keep food costs down by doing dodgy things to their animals like feeding their cows corn or other cow carcasses (how is that legal. Vomit.).

After that, the cost of my food in Australia made total sense to me. Whenever I visit the US, I still have a hint of uneasiness as I eat the meat and wonder whether they come from one of the shoddy chicken or cow farms that were featured on Food, Inc, or that I read about in “Fast Food Nation.” Even vegetables are not spared these days, as I found out after reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.

Now that we’re in Canada, I am relieved to know that most meats and fresh produce sold are Canadian. Not that I know much about the Canadian farming industry, but surely it would not be a screwed up as the American ones.

Like a lot of others, it took some kind of allergy or food related problem to alert me to be more prudent about what I put in my system. I never had to deal with weight issues and never cared about the calories I put in my system or had to think twice about what I ate, but for the sake of Benji, I have to do it. But the more I learn about the types of foods I eat, where my food comes from, and what goes into my food, the more I realize how much more judicious we need to be because there is a lot of weird stuff out there being put into our foods these days.

Do you know where your food comes from and what goes into your food? Do you think it’s time to pay more attention to what you’re eating?

Some good places to start to learn more about the crazy food industry in the US:

  • Fast food nation by Eric Schlosser
  • Food, Inc a film directed by Robert Kenner
  • Supersize me a film by Michael Moore
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Do you have anymore resource to share?

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Yesterday I added yet another item to my “safe foods” list. I have been on the Dr Sear’s total elimination diet for almost 3 weeks now since Benji was diagnosed with eczema last month and had flare ups so bad the sides of his face started weeping for at least 3 weeks.

Doctors we visited (at least 5) said a diet change wasn’t going to work because they claimed his eczema was not triggered by food allergies but that it was simply hereditary (I had asthmatic bronchitis as a kid n my brother had eczema when he was young; his rashes were triggered by consumptions of cheese n beef).

Desperate, I still did this diet anyway because of so many success stories I had read on forums and from friends. The first two weeks I had only rice milk, turkey, chicken, rice, quinoa, pears n apples. And the only seasoning allowed were olive oil, salt n pepper.

Then we went to Seattle and this diet became unrealistic to follow. We couldn’t really eat anywhere! I ended up adding salmon, edamame (soy), coconut, cilantro, and scallions which all turned out to be safe foods for him. WHEW. I have since added sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, and last night, organic tomato based pasta sauce which all seemed okay for him. The one time I had miso soup, which I now learned contains wheat and possibly MSG, we saw bumps around Benji’s eyes almost immediately. I’m ┬ánot sure if it’s the wheat or the MSG or just pure coincidence but that put me off trying wheat or miso soup again anytime soon.

Today I bought some tofu and tomatoes…and am planning on trying out more soy products to test the waters soon.

Meanwhile Benji’s skin has been really good (with the exception of the flare up after the miso soup which was very minor compared to what it was before). People who saw him a month ago and saw him again this week when I started taking him out to activities again all commented what a vast improvement he has made. We are so grateful.

But I won’t lie: I MISS BEING ABLE TO EAT ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. Most of all, I miss my sweets: chocolates, cakes, desserts, and bread. Ugh, it kills me somedays when I walk past bakeries and can’t get anything. OH, well, sacrifices have to be made…this is part of the job description right?

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That’s right! Benji turned the big 4 months about 4 days ago! Exciting developmental milestones in the last week or so:

  • He flipped over from his back to front which totally caught us by surprise so didn’t get to take a video of it. (Still waiting for another flip to happen, btw.) ­čÖé
  • He LOVES this yoga pose of pulling up his legs to mid air so he can look at his feet…and that really keeps him entertained for a while.
  • His 4 month sleep regression seems to be over. THANK GOD. Benji has now reverted to sleeping his usual schedule of about 8pm – 3am which gave Bry and me our quiet time together again.
  • He has more vowels in his coos. Instead of just going “ayy” Benji has started going “eee” and I might be making this up but I was pretty sure I heard a couple of weak sounding “m”s in his coos. His coos have also gotten louder and he’s gurgling more frequently than before.

Benji also had his 4 month immunizations and thankfully did not react too badly to them. He might have had a very mild fever but was not too cranky neither did he need any tylenol.

AND the biggest plus is his skin has gotten SO much better since we started him on the prescribed topical medication (Hydrocortisone Butyrate 0.1%). I have no doubt that the elimination diet is also helping because Benji hasn’t had new huge flare ups since the diet began. More about my diet in the next few posts.

Thank you all my friends and family for your prayers and concerns especially when Benji’s eczema was really really bad. God answers prayers.

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So we had to cross the border to Seattle to get an early enough appointment with a Pediatric Dermatologist (the waitlist here in Canada is crazy long – about 18 months for BC residents with health care cards and even for private pay patients we have to wait 1.5 months !!!!!) and decided to make use of that trip to also do some sightseeing around the town since I had never been there before.

Overall, the trip was plenty successful. We got to see the doctor, he prescribed some stronger topical steroid creams for Benji which seems to be working really well. It also cost us a fortune so yeah it had better work. His wounds have now completely stopped weeping and looking less inflammed. The doctor however was adamant Benji’s eczema is Atopic and is NOT caused by allergies and would not hear of any allergy testing or the fact that for some people, eczema is really exacerbated by some kinds of allergic reaction. Shrugs. We took it with a pinch of salt. I’m still confident Benji has some kind of food allergy – while it may not be a cause, it certainly is a trigger and I’m determined to hunt it down.

We also got to do some outlet shopping, grocery shopping at good ol’ Trader Joe’s and sight see. The weather when we were there was also pretty amazing. What a blessing!

Because we were traveling, I had a lot of difficulty sticking to my total elimination diet. My poor husband didn’t get to eat at nice restaurants because of me but he took it really well. We would go to restaurants and all I’d order is chicken – without seasoning – and rice. Our second meal, I caved and ordered sushi, salmon sushi. So yes, I introduced salmon into my diet and Benji seemed to take it okay. No new flare ups. For the rest of our trip, we just did take out meals from the Whole Foods cafe. ┬áRotisserie chicken with just natural herbs and plain quinoa? Just my kinda meal.

I’ll post some photos from our trip later…but from the two photos above, you can see a happier Benji and therefore a happier mommy! ­čÖé Thank GOD Benji’s skin is looking so much better. He’s also been itching less and I am SO relieved and grateful that we had the means to get him seen sooner than later. After we returned from our trip, the local Pediatric Dermatologist’s office rang and said we got an appointment early May. We will go for a second opinion with this local specialist who is also an Allergist/Immunologist. I’m interested to hear his views on eczema and allergies.

We’re also keeping my TED and will work more with the naturopath on it.

Crossing all fingers and toes.

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Today’s weather in Vancouver was AMAZING. It really felt like spring (or just another ordinary day in SoCal…oh yeah, I miss that place quite a bit!).

With Benji’s eczema being so unpredictable and the sides of his face starting to act up again (much to my distress) I had to cancel plans to go on an Arts Stroller walk around town with a mother’s group. Instead, I took a short walk with him around the neighborhood with him in the stroller…but that really exacerbated his eczema on the face. The sides that took so long to heal are now weeping again. Today Benji’s skin on his body flared up as well.┬áIs the sleeping bag another cause of his flare-ups? Was it because I had zucchini – a supposedly safe vegetable but one that I rarely eat – for lunch and dinner yesterday? Is he allergic to the fish oil or probiotics? I don’t know. I don’t understand. And I know I’m not alone on this but I hate not knowing. Sigh. ┬áRegression, just after a small celebratory post just a couple days ago. Argh.

This is life with a child who needs extra attention. I have to learn to accept that…before all this, I had plans to take him to baby swim classes after he passes his 4 month mark, attend post-natal pilates classes that I can take Benji to as well, and go for coffees and walks with moms I had met here. But all of that is now put on hold. Indefinitely. Adjustments.

Anyway, after daddy got home from work, we took a walk with Benji in the Bjorn. The Bjorn has worked for us really well in terms of transporting Benji around in such a way that he does not have any opportunity to scratch his face or head since his arms are strapped to the sides.

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Just a few more days till our Ped Dermatologist’s appointment. Fingers crossed his skin won’t get even worse anymore.

Till then, I need to really REALLY learn to take a deep breath, trust God, and relax.