More on Allergies

Meg’s comment on my last post reminded me of a talk I’d heard at work a while back.  There is a lot of research going on these days about the body’s microbiome- the mix of bacteria that is present in and on the body, and how it affects one’s health.

I had previously posted about it here, and how it may affect obesity:

Well, the particular talk I heard focused on allergies.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the speaker, and I wish I’d taken notes.  So everything I’m recounting here is based on what I remember of her talk.

She started the talk discussing how there are differences in babies’ microbiomes based on whether they were born via vaginal delivery or C-section.  What’s frightening is that whether they were breastfed or not, these differences persisted at one year of life.  Breastfeeding was beneficial, but there were still significant differences between the vaginal delivery and C-section babies.

A healthier microbiome appears to be one that has a greater variety of organisms.  From what I recall of the talk, there were certain bacterial species that were seen in the “healthier” individuals, but I don’t remember which ones they were.

In terms of an OB standpoint, the difference is thought to come from the natural vaginal flora that the babies are exposed to during a vaginal delivery.  I should also mention that prior to a C-section, mothers are given IV antibiotics to help prevent infections at the surgical site.

Now, I don’t want women to fear a C-section.  We do them when we have to, but our goal is to have a vaginal delivery whenever it is deemed safe and appropriate.  I’ve heard of some researchers looking into swabbing the mother’s vagina and then transferring the material to the baby’s mouth and nose in cases of a C-section.  But that is still experimental, so we don’t know if it’s beneficial or not.

The standard use of antibiotics, such as prior to C-sections, or for moms with a positive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) test, is done based on extensive research on the benefits.  However, this emerging research on the body’s microbiome may show that there are more subtle long-term effects from antibiotic use.

The speaker went on to say that the body’s microbiome has effects on allergies.  Asthma is a marker for allergies.  In other words, asthma is considered to be a manifestation of the allergic response of the body, along with conditions like eczema.

So this brings me back to Meg’s comment about her son eating dirt from their yard.  The speaker mentioned that prior to our modern days, we were exposed to certain bacteria, such as from dirt and exposure to livestock.  Her research is showing that those exposures reduced rates of asthma.  Individuals with a greater variety of organisms in their microbiome tend to have less asthma.

Since it’s not realistic for most of us to have a pet cow, she mentioned that households with dogs were shown to have a healthier microbiome.  The bacteria found in the homes themselves have a “healthier” mix.  Cats provided some benefit, but not as much as dogs.  Therefore, her research suggests that having a dog in the house can reduce your kids’ risks of allergies and asthma.

And I also think that letting your kid play in the dirt, which will presumably lead to ingestion of some of it, is probably going to help out their microbiome as well.  Knowing this, I have wanted to get WZW outdoors more.  Unfortunately our yard isn’t as conducive for playing in the dirt.  Thanks to the California drought, we have an artificial lawn.  And our landlords had put in some tanbark, which is not the best for WZW to be putting in his mouth.  But we’re hoping to buy a home at some point, so perhaps we’ll have a better yard for him to play in.

We recently went to my 80-something year-old aunt’s place.  She has an extensive garden in her backyard, so of course she has a lot of gardening tools.  WZW was having a ball playing with a little shovel and getting dirty.  She handed him a fresh apple from her tree, and he bit right into it.  Good thing since he only has 8 teeth, he can’t take large chunks out of it, so it wasn’t much of a choking hazard.  It was cute seeing him biting into an apple half the size of his head.

As much as I would love to have a dog, I just wouldn’t be able to take care of it.  I’ve tried to convince my parents to get one, but they’re not interested.  Ultimately, I try not to be too much of a germophobe when it comes to my son.  I don’t think it’s good to be going crazy with hand sanitizer and such.  In fact, the only times we use the hand sanitizer in WZW’s diaper bag are when we have to change a poopy diaper and there is no sink nearby to wash our hands.  I keep thinking we should take him to a petting zoo to try to expose him to healthier flora.  But like the peanut butter thing- it’s one of those things we think of, and have not quite gotten around to.


One Year!


WZW turned one on Monday!  Last year, I was due on Labor Day, and this year, he turned one on Labor Day.  It really is amazing how much has changed in a year.  Last year, I was coming off of the delivery, we were figuring out the whole parenting thing, and I was dealing with the new challenges of breastfeeding.  WZW was this immature little creature who would cry for no good reason, despite our best efforts.

Now, this guy is tons of fun and tons of work- in a different way.  For the most part, he’s a happy guy who is a joy to play with.  In the last couple of weeks or so, he has started walking.  He’s already been getting into everything- reaching as high as he can, opening drawers, taking items and strewing them all about, and rarely putting them back in.  When he does put an item into a container, it’s often his random decision.  So if we’re not careful, an item could end up misplaced since he put it somewhere strange.  The toddler phase has arrived.

His first word was “up,” said appropriately in context when going up the stairs.  Alas, he says “Mama” a lot, but not in reference to me.  He finally started using sign language recently.  We only did a couple of signs for “eat” and “milk” and have yet to expand on that.  But it is helpful to have him be able to signal his hunger as an alternative to crying loudly, which he still does as well.

He’s generally been doing well with feeding himself, so we’ve been giving him a variety of “real food” cut up into small pieces for him.  We still give him some baby food pouches, mostly for convenience when we’re in a rush or out in public.  And he’s now adept at drinking out of a straw.  Again, for convenience we’ll still give the bottle, but he’ll probably soon phase out of using them.

At 10 months, I discovered his egg allergy.  After that, I fed him a little of the peanut butter we happened to have in our pantry.  Then I realized it contained honey.  So it wasn’t until close to his first birthday that my husband gave him more peanut butter.  Well, unfortunately he developed another rash, so the pediatrician recommended that he see an allergist.  The allergist did tests for a bunch of food allergies, and confirmed the egg and peanut allergies, as well as one to brazil nuts, which hopefully will be a rare issue.

He said that there is a higher likelihood that he’ll grow out of the egg allergy, but less so with the peanuts.  There is a 25% chance he’ll grow out of the peanut allergy.  In hindsight, I wish we’d introduced peanuts to him earlier.  It was something I’d known about, that lately the recommendation is early introduction, but it was just one of those things we never really got around to.

Plus, I had been eating tons of peanuts while I was breastfeeding- a regular snack had become these particular Trader Joe’s snack bars that contain peanuts.  In my mind, I’d felt like that was early introduction for him.  And I had no reason to think he’d develop an allergy to peanuts, since no one in our families has a peanut allergy.  Well, my husband says he’s “allergic” to peanuts as a euphemism for them causing gas.  But that doesn’t count.

This is the first time that I felt disappointed in myself as a parent for failing to do something, which potentially caused an impact on my son.  I’m sure it will happen many times in the course of parenting.  And of course, as a parent, you can’t predict how everything will turn out.  But still, I do feel some regret at not trying to feed him peanuts earlier.

I really hope he grows out of it, but if he doesn’t, my concern isn’t necessarily the allergy itself.  A lot of people have allergies that cause rashes and such.  But what I fear is that it might risk an anaphylactic reaction.  The allergist recommended that we get EpiPens to keep on hand just in case.  These days, there is much more awareness around peanut allergies, so it hopefully won’t be an issue.  And I hope we never have to actually use one of the EpiPens.