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Thank you kind people for your encouragements here and privately about Benji’s development. We will find a solution it just takes time. And money. And energy. But it will be resolved. 🙂

While we await for an appointment to see a Radiologist for a hip ultrasound/x-ray, I start to tackle the problem of Benji’s slow weight gain — increasing his milk intake and figuring out what other solids to let him try. Even though I know breastmilk is still to be his main source of nutrition and contributor to his weight gain, the Ped recommended that we start feeding him solids 3 times a day (we had started him on them late last week; an exciting milestone!). Now, does feeding him more solids help with his growth? There is little evidence to suggest it will but the Ped seemed to think it would help. In fact, it might decrease his intake of milk as he takes more solids. But since we’re at 5.5 months now, and should start him on solids at around this time, I decided to just go with her recommendations anyway (and again, I could’ve argued with her that this will decrease his milk intake but I didn’t).

So, here is my spiel on baby’s first solids – what I was told, what I read, and what I decided to do:

One other thing I really didn’t like about our Pediatrician other than the fact that she screwed up Benji’s age, failed to give us a full prescription in our first appointment for Benji’s vaccines when she said she would, and thought we were there the second time for Benji’s 4 month shots (Lady, read your case notes BEFORE seeing your patients!) was her insistence that we start Benji on white rice cereal as his first solids. Her eyes glared at me disapprovingly when I told her avocado was Benji’s first food and that he took it well. “NOnonono, I told you rice cereal first, then orange vegetables.” (She did tell me that last appointment; I guess she remembers *some* things but not others. Then continued “Avocado is too strong for his digestive system.” I was too hungry and furious with her to even rebut with the plethora of articles I read online, both research and anecdotal, suggesting that rice cereal is NOT the best option for baby’s first foods. It is the easiest (for some; personally don’t think it’s much easier to prepare than, say, mashing up an avocado) and most available. But is it the most nutritious? No. Or, that the latest research promotes starting babies on natural foods, not processed foods made of processed flour.

In fact, more research are suggesting that white rice cereal is not nutritious as baby’s first foods. Read more about why Rice Cereal is not a good first food for babies from the WhiteOut campaign by Dr Greene, a Pediatrician and Clinical Professor at Stanford University.

What about the recent NYtimes article that mentioned that Pediatricians in France recommend babies first foods like leek soup, endive, spinach, and beet. Completely natural, and delicious! I may not know my veggie color groups very well but they certainly don’t sound like orange vegetables to me.

Anecdotally, a friend, whose husband is a Pediatrician, also started her daughter on natural foods instead of rice cereal. And yes, her husband didn’t think rice cereal was necessarily the best first food.

My choices were guided by information from Dr Greene as well as other helpful sources I read on kellymom.com, Le Leche League International, and wholesomebabyfood.com . Dr Greene suggested in place of rice cereal, to start babies on sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados. If it is necessary to feed babies cereal, he recommended organic whole grain cereals instead. The Ped we saw also said to feed Benji veggies first, then fruits, to prevent babies from developing a “sweet tooth,” something which, from what I read from numerous places, is a myth, since breastmilk is already naturally sweet!

Since Benji’s weight gain has been slow, and since the Pediatrician was insistent he goes on rice cereal, I met her halfway and decided to give Organic Barley Cereal for his second taste of solids. We’re into day #7 of solids and so far, Benji seems to really enjoy both the avocado and barley cereal and has not had obvious allergic reactions to them. He opens his mouth whenever the spoon is near his mouth, and has now learned to keep the food in (lost most of the tongue thrust reflex) and swallow it. He also loves holding the spoon and trying to put it in his mouth (like he does with everything else that comes within his reach! Heh.).

Our next trial will be sweet potato and then yam. It’s all very exciting. I have also spent the last couple days reading up recipes for homemade baby foods on Anabel Karmel and am looking forward to trying them in the next few months. However, because we do highly suspect food allergies due to his eczema, I will be extremely cautious with foods we will introduce and try down the line such as beef (my brother was allergic to it as a kid) and seafood (my dad is mildly allergic to shellfish).

In addition to the solids, I have also added one extra milk feed in the day, which Benji seems to be taking quite well, too. We shall see if his weight will continue to blossom. I don’t expect it to increase dramatically the way it did in the first couple months and since both me and my husband are skinny people (we’re Asians. Shrug.) a chubby kid is not expected.

Oh, and yes, we are not going back to that same Pediatrician again!

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The visit to the Pediatrician today turned out more exhausting than expected. We were supposed to visit to simply pick up a second prescription for Benji’s vaccination and were made to wait for over an hour (we had an appointment), and subsequently, greeted by the Pediatrician – who we had seen before – and who miscalculated Benji’s age and the intent of our visit.

Anyway, after doing some checks on him, we found out on top of his eczema, Benji’s weight has dropped from the 50th percentile at 2 months, to the 25th percentile at 4months and now down to the 10th percentile at 5 months (and 1 week). Further to that, he now has a ‘clicky’ right hip which requires further investigation.  If we were in Australia where we have the appropriate medical insurance, we wouldn’t even think twice about the referral. But we are here, and won’t be back in Australia until 2 months later, so we will now have to fork out a chunk of money for the ultrasound. And even having the money might not get us an appointment before we leave town (remembering our experience with a supposed 18-month waiting list to see a Ped Derm here).

We left the office with a mixed bag of emotions: frazzled, hungry, angry, lost,…twas all quite a bit too much. It still is.

Breathe. And pray. That’s all we can do now. More updates later.

(Photo of Benji’s cute rock star sleeping pose taken on the weekend.)

Most people these days (at least those who read blogs) would’ve done some form of air travel with their babies. There is also so much information and advice out on the good ol’ internets about this, I’m not going to repeat them here. This Youtube presentation really laid out the tips clearly and I recommend anyone traveling with their infants/babies for the first time to watch it.

What I wanted to write about is the few things we never leave home without when staying overnight elsewhere with Benji: A baby carrier (sometimes two), a travel crib, moisturizer and medication, gentle all purpose soap (Dr Bronner’s), and most times, a compact baby bath.

Baby Carrier:

Someone loaned us the Belle Organic Baby Carrier and we love it. In fact, I prefer it over the popular Baby Bjorn carrier which we also have, for multiple reasons. The biggest: it is really lightweight. The Belle Organic carrier is also great because as the name suggests, the material is made of organic fabric which, in this case, is cotton. Although I haven’t written much about Benji’s skin condition, it still exists and we still work hard almost daily to find ways to manage it. At 5 months, Benji has become quite a little explorer, constantly turning his head from side to side to check out the sights and sounds around him. Therefore, it is important for us to have a carrier with material soft and gentle to his skin when he rubs his face against it. The carrier is also very lightweight and easy to compress in your hand carry luggage.

Foldable Baby Bath:

Because of Benji’s sensitive skin, we try to bath him in a clean tub and not wanting to take chances with hotel tubs, I try as much as possible to put him in a tub that I *know* is clean (yes, I don’t trust the hotel cleaning standards). We also bathe him once a day and then moisturize him immediately afterward to ‘trap’ in the moisture from the water. The bath in the photo is the one we have. It’s called the Summer Infant Folding Bath. It’s been really good to us. Easy to use and highly portable. But, we need to get another one soon as Benji is outgrowing this one FAST.

Travel Crib:

Most hotels and vacation rental places supply cribs on request. Once again, because of Benji’s sensitive skin, I am paranoid to use anything that I did not clean myself, especially his bedding. I use special organic laundry wash for all his clothes (and ours, too) in case he is sensitive to the chemicals used in regular detergents. I have also decided that I don’t want to be wrapped up in clothes washed in synthesized chemicals; it’s like wearing these chemicals on my skin. In a way, his travel crib can also serve as a familiar and consistent item to help him sleep better in a foreign place. The travel crib we own is the Baby Bjorn one. It folds up really easily and into a bag, so it’s convenient to carry around. We have actually been using it as his crib while temporarily here in Vancouver.

Moisturizers/Medications & Dr Bronners magic soap:

We constantly moisturize Benji as his skin tends to dry out more easily than other babies without eczema. His skin also flares up ocassionally with red spots on his face and body and one way to prevent them from getting worse and eventually weeping, is to keep his skin well hydrated. We also carry his hydrocortisone medications with us to apply them whenever those spots appear (currently everyday 😦 ). Dr Bronners magic soap is also another staple item in our travel luggage. Benji has those explosive poops almost everyday and consequently soils his clothing. Instead of having to bring along a million outfits, or hunt around for a laundrymat and be subject to using their laundry detergent, I brought along this soap which I used to handwash some of his soiled outfits and then air dried in the bathroom. Another benefit of having soap on hand is that the stains get removed quickly (as opposed to sitting in a plastic bag for days and only washing them out then).

What is in your baby travel luggage? 

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  not 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.) 🙂
  • 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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After a week (more like 7 weeks of steady decline of his skin) of watching Benji go through breakouts of rashes everywhere and getting increasingly fussy because of itch, I decided to do it: TOTAL ELIMINATION DIET.

Not just dairy and eggs and shellfish n red meat as in my previous post, but any food that has been known to cause allergies to rule out as quickly as possible if he is allergic to foods I’ve been eating. That on top of using new all natural laundry detergent, wearing and coming into contact with ONLY cotton, and getting our place spring cleaned tomorrow with all natural products.

It was a very tough decision for me (again I LOVE my food too much! And one of the ways Bry n I bond over so much is through food) but watching my poor baby so uncomfortable with rashes and having bound hands to prevent him from scratching is an even more difficult feeling to stomach. We need to get down to business faster.

Popularized by Dr SearsDr Sears the diet is made up of: millet, rice, rice pasta, organic lamb chicken turkey, squashes, and pears. I m going to modify it a little to include quinoa, apples and spinach lettuce and Chinese leafy veggies. Calcium n omega 3 supplements should also be consumed to keep up the nutrients.

I hope to follow through for at least two weeks and pray to see some noticeable results so we know there is a trigger and can work it out from there rather than simply relying on steroids medication n worse of all continuously having to bind his hands and watch him like a hawk.

Let’s hope it’s just food allergies. Goodbye junk food, cakes n cookies, cereal, cheese….etc for awhile!!

Meanwhile mommy needs to try to chill out.