By Tereza Hubkova, M.D.
In ways I never imagined, raising a child has redefined the word "responsibility" for me. My husband, Chris, calls my scrupulous behavior "unnecessary worrying". Deep inside I know he's often right.
"Paralysis by analysis" is another way to describe my state-of-mind when it comes to raising my little girl—especially when she was only a baby. Luckily for me, my husband does not hesitate to act swiftly, perfectly complimenting my indecisiveness.
A little over three years ago, I mentioned to him preliminary results of a study suggesting that early introduction of peanuts to babies may, in fact, lower the risk of peanut allergies. Two months later my nine month old daughter seemed unusually interested in an apple with peanut butter I was snacking on. I turned to my husband. "Do you think I should give her some peanut butter? Maybe not. I'm worried about her having an allergic reaction. Maybe next time we're near a hospital, just in case. Right, Sweetie?"
My Sweetie cast an OMG look in my direction, rolling his eyes. Then he informed me that he had been giving our baby peanut butter a few times a week, ever since I mentioned the study. I almost fainted, but was also tremendously relieved that all had gone well.
At ten months or so, my husband gave our little girl a piece of lobster in a restaurant. "I think I need another glass of wine," I exclaimed to the waitress while biting my nails. But our little pumpkin did just as well with lobster as she did with peanut butter.
Around our daughter's first birthday, my husband and I decided it was time to start giving our daughter both probiotics and fish oil (Omega-3s). True to form, when it came to deciding exactly how much of each to give her, while I was agonizing over exact dosing, my husband simply popped an infant probiotics capsule into my daughter's mouth to be chewed, and let her sip a guesstimated dose of fish oil straight from a spoon—without measuring by dropper. Gasp!
After another conversation, this time about the hygiene hypothesis and the health benefits of owning pets, my husband found the cutest foster dog in need of a new family. One look in Acorn's deep brown eyes and I knew we had to get him. After all, children raised with animals have less allergies. As we discovered two days later, our four legged friend came with bunch of worms and other parasites. "Fantastic!", I hissed at Chris with sarcasm. "Hygiene hypothesis 2.0." But then again, countries known for lots of parasites actually have less autoimmune disorders and almost non-existent Crohn's disease. (We treated Acorn promptly nevertheless.)
Our little girl embraced our new family member right away, including his food bowl, which she would share with him with unmatched enthusiasm. "Don't worry, Tereza," my husband whispered lovingly, "The kind of dog food we buy is healthier than most human food." How reassuring.... Still, seeing her stuff her face with dog food almost every day made me more than a bit uncomfortable. "Sweetheart, it really is not for people," I would negotiate with her. Immediately, my toddler shoved another handful of dog granules in her mouth, announcing victoriously, "Gluten free!"
Somewhere around two and a half my daughter discovered sugar, and all hell broke loose. Don't ever think you'll get away with a "once a week" sweet treat. The little rascal goes through my purse searching for chocolates or mints at every occasion.
"We have to eat rainbow of colors, darling," I tell her, decorating her dinner plate with broccoli, tomatoes, radishes, olives, carrots, and cucumber. "I need something brown!" she exclaims, "Chocolate, mom! We need chocolate!"
We tried to hide the existence of chocolate for as long as possible, in spite of it's health benefits. Somehow I knew that justification would only partially help my guilt and anxiety over how much we caved in. The 80:20 rule (be good 80% of the time, allow some slack the other 20%), started tilting in the other direction.
Despite or because of all of it, our daughter seems to be growing just fine and is smarter than both her parents combined (or so it often seems). The results of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study are officially out; children exposed to peanut butter at least three times a week, beginning at ages 4 - 11 months, and until age 5, had 70-80% less peanut allergies than children avoiding peanuts altogether. While we do not know if the same applies to other common allergens like milk, eggs, or tree nuts, our toddler got away with everything thus far (she's nearly four now). Let's hope it stays that way. All the best to your children too!
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