New Mama Musings

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Solving the Puzzle

As followers of this blog and/or followers of my life know, Henry has slept like shit since the day he was born. Never sleeping more than a few hours at a stretch, crying out, talking in his sleep, thrashing, clawing at his stomach, climbing on top of me, asking multiple times for drinks of water. Awful.

I had hoped that two years ago after I discovered he was gluten-intolerant and removed gluten from his diet his sleep would improve, but it never did. I even took dairy out at the same time, but after nothing changed I added it back in.

I wasn't sure what else to do, and in the back of my mind I wondered if this was just how Henry was wired. Maybe he simply needed more reassurance at night than other kids. If I would just hang in there, maybe eventually he'd sleep through the night.

But at the beginning of this year, when Henry was almost three-and-a-half, I decided to have him tested for food intolerances again. He'd had the IgG test done about two years prior but I'd read that the test wasn't very reliable until the subject was older than two years old.

The IgG test looks for food sensitivities or intolerances -- reactions that show up more slowly and in less obvious ways than an IgE reaction like a peanut allergy that can be immediately life-threatening.

This time dairy showed up again, practically off the charts -- as did eggs. (I had the same test done on myself with the same results.) I'd been eating a LOT of eggs, and although Henry had stopped eating them scrambled when I made them for breakfast I was putting them raw into our morning smoothie. They were also in the gluten-free rolls and cookies we got from a local bakery. And I had been making rolls out of egg whites and cream cheese.

So on February first I cut eggs and dairy out of our diet. I hit a few stumbling blocks as I discovered dairy in things I hadn't thought to check at first -- like the probiotic powder I put in Henry's daily water bottle.

Within the first week I noticed a positive difference in Henry's sleep. He started to sleep through the night for the first time in his three-and-a-half years. No more yelling, "No no no!" and getting agitated in his sleep. No more clawing at himself. It was amazing.

Henry's skin had also been a problem since he was a baby. He'd had patches of eczema that went away some time after we went gluten-free, and he continued to have what looked like goosebumps all over his body. And in the past year or so he started to get really dry patches on his torso.

I took him to a mainstream allergist shortly after we had the IgG test done (but before we got the results) and his advice was to lube Henry up with lots of cream before bed every night, and if that didn't help, to come back and get some steroid cream.

Henry would never have let me put lotion of any kind on him, and I was not about to slather him with steroids.

The allergist, not surprisingly, scoffed when I mentioned the IgG test. (It's controversial in mainstream medicine...but then so are most of the things I've come to believe about health.) He said it looked for raised levels of antibodies against certain foods, but since the body sees all food as an invader and creates antibodies against everything we eat, the test was worthless. I acknowledged that it wasn't perfect -- there were often false negatives, for instance -- but I thought it was a good starting point.

And now Henry's skin was clearing up within a matter of days, with no lotion and (thank God) no steroid cream. What makes me sad is that the nurse in the allergist's office said her daughter's skin looked exactly like Henry's, and because of where she works she'd probably never look into food sensitivities as a cause.

It's been almost three months since I took Henry off eggs and dairy, and while things aren't perfect, they are MUCH improved. He still has some interrupted sleep, and although his skin is a lot better he continues to have some goosebump-like patches. I'm looking into a pattern of possible reactions with other foods and also giving Henry some supplements to make up for years of nutrition compromised by a messed-up gut.

Our journey isn't over, but it's incredible to me that I've solved one piece of the puzzle after we all suffered at night for so long.


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