It’s been almost exactly a year since the last time we managed to get some scramble down her – last December, on my birthday, during one night away from Sidney when Sadie was still too small to be left with her grandparents overnight.
Since then it’s been playing at the back of my mind. Every few months some article or other pops up on my Twitter feed proclaiming that avoidance of certain foods could actually lead to the development of allergies.
This was the latest – research from Canada suggesting that parents with one peanut allergic kid may be increasing the risk of allergy in their second child by shielding them from said bastard foodstuff.
The lead researcher, Dr Elana Lavine, said: “If a younger sibling of a PNA [peanut allergic] child isn’t fed peanut until a somewhat older age, we may be inadvertently increasing that sibling’s chance of becoming PNA too.”
The theory is that being introduced to a substance later in life raises the risk of an allergic response. One famous 2008 study shows kids in Israel are ten times less likely to be peanut allergic than Jewish children in the UK – possibly because they are habitually weaned on peanut snacks.
So the well-meaning advice is to try to introduce allergenic foods such as egg, peanut and so on before 12 months of age. The assumption tends to be that we parents of allergic kids are too scared to introduce these foods to their little brothers and sisters in case they turn out to be allergic, too.
Of course that worry does exist. But most of us have run the gamut of livid rashes, nasty eczema, unexplained hives, vomiting, you name it, before our first kids were diagnosed with food allergy. We’re primed to spot the early signs – I pretty much knew Sadie wasn’t allergic because she’d had none of those issues. I was also very lucky because Sidney’s allergist tested her at eight months, just to put our minds at rest. I know not everyone has that luxury.
Yet what nobody ever mentions, when doling out this well-meaning advice, is that what we are actually not happy about is the risk that our allergic kids might come into contact with the stuff via their baby siblings.
Man, if I gave Sadie a peanut butter sandwich tomorrow she’d use it as a hat and then trundle off to bite her elder brother.
We know that for Sidney even a touch of egg is enough to trigger a reaction – it’s how we found out he was allergic in the first place. This summer we were on holiday and someone somewhere (don’t ask) managed to break an egg in a hat box. My husband unwittingly touched the rim of a hat, then held Sidney’s arm for a few seconds, and suddenly he was dotted with hives.
So, actually, while the research might suggest we’d be better off allowing our non-allergic younger kids to eat everything their elder siblings are allergic to, the reality isn’t as straightforward as all that.
Send Sadie off overnight to her grandparents? Well, at 21 months old she’s still waking up all hours of the night screaming for boob. Do it while her brother is at nursery? Well, he’s only in nursery two mornings a week and they eat all of their meals together.
But it’s been playing on my mind. Not only because I would quite like to avoid inflicting allergies on Sadie if I can help it, but I’m acutely aware of what she’s missing out on simply by virtue of being her brother’s sister.
So today I bit the bullet and took Sadie out for lunch while my husband stayed home and looked after Sidney. We ordered scrambled eggs on toast. It was a very odd feeling. I have never been able to walk off the street into a restaurant, sit down and order anything on a whim for Sidney. It was nice. I felt guilty, too, about Sidney at home oblivious to his sister’s lunch date, so I bought him a T-shirt with a robot on.
Despite an infuriatingly slow start (ignoring the egg, concentrating on the flipping toast) she ended up wolfing down a fair bit.
As predicted, we had egg in her ears, up the sleeves of her jumper, on my leg and all over the floor. So we went to the cafe loo to scrub down.
Back home, it was straight to the bathroom for a strip, clothes bundled into the washing machine, hands and face washed with soap and water, teeth brushed, her toothbrush slooshed twice with washing up liquid (she has a fancy for ramming it into her brother’s mouth when he’s not looking) and into some clean new togs.
Next task: hummus and peanut butter. I might need a little while to gear myself up to that.