Food Allergies and Day Care
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Is your day-care provider prepared in case of a reaction?
Food allergies affect nearly one in every dozen children. The most common triggers are cow’s milk, soy, eggs, wheat, gluten, and nuts. If your child has food allergies, ask yourself this question: Would my day-care provider be ready in case of a reaction?
Often, as children grow, moms don’t discover an allergy until a reaction happens—one-quarter of kids have their first reaction at school or day care. When I was a classroom teacher, a boy sat quietly eating at the lunch table. Suddenly he began to scratch at the inside of his mouth. Seconds later, he began wheezing. At that time, I knew only to call the school nurse. Later that week, the nurse told me the boy had been diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts. This was news to us—and to his mom.
Although day-care providers are now trained to respond to life-threatening emergency reactions, how can you best prepare your provider for your child’s food allergy?
Become familiar with the team
Solo Moms I talked to whose kids have a food allergy said that sending their kids to school or day care was one of the biggest stressors of their day. What might happen if their child had a reaction? Would the adults know what to do? And what about the very quiet or preverbal child?
They agreed that informing the day care about the allergy and creating a partnership with their day-care provider and all staff members was key. Being a proactive participant in their child’s daily activities and getting to know each member of the day-care team helped to create a greater sense of security.
Your role on the team is to be the expert on your child’s food allergy. You will need to communicate the following to your child’s day-care provider:
- The specific foods he or she must not have.
- The signs he or she exhibits when a reaction begins.
- The ways your child might describe an allergic reaction, especially any specific language or gestures if your child is preverbal.
- The intervention required when a reaction occurs.
- How to use an epinephrine auto-injector device (EpiPen), if one has been prescribed. An allergist can show you how to use it, and you can find additional resources to help your child’s day-care provider at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
This information should be communicated by any means possible, but always make sure you have a written emergency-care plan filed with the school—even if you’ve already told the teacher and the nurse what to do.
In addition to the list above, make sure to include:
- Current contact information for you and your child’s allergist.
- A recent photograph of your child.
- The signature of your child’s allergist or other licensed health-care provider.
Provide all needed medications
If your child uses an EpiPen, you must provide one for your child’s use. Give two EpiPens to the day care if a second dose is needed. Research has proven that serious food allergy outcomes are most commonly associated with either not using epinephrine or delaying epinephrine treatment.
EpiPens have a one-year shelf life, so check the expiration date before giving it to the day care. It’s easiest if the expiration date is at least a year away so you do not have to replace the device during the school year.
Provide any other medications your child needs—antihistamines, asthma inhalers, or any other medications your child’s allergist recommends.
Know food policies
Learn the day-care’s food policies. Find out as much as you can about its specific approach to food allergy management. Many facilities have implemented management strategies about how food is handled. If there is a dietitian, talk to him or her about your child’s allergy and how to make sure your child has safe alternatives—you made need to provide them yourself.
Most day-care centers allow parents to bring in treats for holidays or birthdays. Ask your provider to send home a list of food allergies for the entire class so parents can bring in a treat for your child (and other children) that will not cause a reaction. You can also ask the other parents to bring in a few of the allergen-free treats so your child’s friends can try the gluten-free brownie or the cookies made without eggs. It will make your child feel less singled out.
Connect and share
The good news? A large percentage of kids outgrow their food allergies. By the age of 10, kids outgrow 40% of egg allergies, 16% of peanut allergies, and 13% of shellfish allergies. By the age of six and a half, 55% of kids with an egg allergy and 45% with a milk allergy outgrow their symptoms.
In the meantime, support groups are a tremendous help for Solo Moms and their children. Connecting with other parents of kids living with food allergies allows you to share tips and work together with the local school or day care to increase awareness. This is also a great way for a Solo Mom to make friends. No local support group? Find one on FARE’s website.
If your child is in school rather than day care, Kids With Food Allergies has tons of links, webinars, and helpful information on the latest research on food allergies and school for kids—and their parents.
Anne Spollen lives happily as a Solo Mom to three kids and works as an author, a writer, and a college teacher.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.