A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Category Archives: Health


My daughter had her first major dancing concert this week.  She does highland dancing, but it’s not just the traditional highland flings and bagpipes.  This concert included contemporary dance, hip-hop fused highland, and a very fun Celtic Bollywood Extravaganza, which my daughter was part of.

Now I realise highland dancing is a bit of an unusual choice, but there is a good reason behind it.


My Dad’s originally from Scotland, so that’s part of it, but the main issue for me was wanting to find a form of dancing that was active and fun, but also conducive to a healthy body image.  You don’t have to be a stick insect to do highland.  Too often you see little girls in skimpy outfits, plastered with makeup, doing really inappropriate moves to really inappropriate music.

It’s like they’re 6 going on 16. 

I remember taking Caillie to a toddler dance class at the church around the corner and they were playing stuff like “I’m too sexy!”  That didn’t last long!  There’s a lot of reasearch now suggesting that little girls are growing up too fast, wanting to wear make-up, getting conerned about their appearance and body image, so I’m really grateful to have found a healthy, fun dance school for my girls, where the costumes aren’t too revealing and there are lots of positive role models among the teenagers.

Psychotherapist Collett Smart once told me that it was important for kids to have hobbies outside of school so they have a range of role models beyond just their school peers.  I’m certainly seeing the wisdom in that as I see my daughter starting to look up to some of the older girls there.  As a mother of girls, I’m also really aware that they take a lot of their cues from us.  So we have to take a good hard look at ourselves.  If we’re always dieting or trying to change ourselves then how can we tell our girls that they’re beautiful as they are?  In a culture that’s becoming obsessed with physical perfection, how far is too far?

I’m okay with decorating, but not with trying to change how I’m made.  That’s where I draw the line in the sand.  So wearing nice clothes, jewellery, nailpolish, and a bit of make-up is just decorating, but doing things to try to change the way I am made is not okay.  So for me, that rules out fake anything, crash dieting, botox, collagen injections, cosmetic surgery, anything in which we’re trying to alter our bodies or unrealistically reverse the ageing process, because that says we’re not good enough as we are.  Exactly where we draw that line will be different for everyone, but for me it’s about accepting that we come in different shapes and sizes and that we don’t have to strive for physical perfection.

Social media has a lot to answer for in this area.  I recently attended a talk by Justine Toh from the Centre for Public Christianity where she talked about how the i-generation is using social media to create their own image.  Every time we post a glamorous selfie, or un-tag ourselves in an unflattering photo, we’re building this culture of perfection, which is causing our young girls to feel inadequate.  (Obviously some people do need to look professional on facebook – I’m not saying we should all be trogs!)  One time I got sick of all the glamorous profile pics you see on facebook, so I took a photo of myself with no make-up – I hadn’t even brushed my hair – it was just me how I actually look most of the time.  Anyway my husband saw the photo on facebook, put a filter on it on his i-pad and emailed it to me, as a favour.  And it did look better, but I was like “Noooo.”  I deliberately wanted a photo that’s completely natural.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA So let’s resist the culture of perfection, people!  

Let’s teach our girls how to deconstruct those enhanced images they see on the bus stop billboards and show our girls that we’re happy with ourselves, just as we are.   Then maybe they’ll have a chance of being happy with themselves too.

One Nail

This week is Food Allergy Week.  Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia are asking us all to paint one nail as a sign of support to the one in ten babies being born with a food allergy.  So all this week and next week I’m visiting schools and libraries reading my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party.  This morning I’m visiting Broughton Anglican College, tomorrow Pacific Hills Christian School, Thursday I’m at Lane Cove Library Story Time and on Friday I’ll be at Putney Public School.  Next week I’m visiting Randwick and Mowbray Public Schools.  So even though most of the time I live the relaxed, easy-going life of a full-time stay at home Mum (HA HA), the last few weeks I’ve had a little taste of what it’s like to be one of those busy Mums who work from home.

 Based on the week I had last week I think it might be a tad easier to work when you actually go to work.

Let me tell you about my week.  On Monday, Birdy had the day off school with a cold, on Tuesday night she was up vomiting all night, so then she had to have Wednesday off school.  On Thursday morning, hubby got sick and I also discovered that Birdy had cross-country carnival that day.  Somehow I managed to spend almost the entire day down at the cross-country carnival and still managed to miss her actual race!  Molly decided not to take her afternoon nap, so by this time it was Thursday afternoon and I still hadn’t managed to get any work done.  On Thursday night, Molly screamed the house down from midnight until after 3.30 am, so on Friday I was like a walking zombie just trying to clean up the detritus around my home from the week of sickness and sleep deprivation.  On Friday night, I put Molly to bed at 7, hoping to get some work done and after two hours of carry-on she finally fell asleep in my arms sometime after 9.  So by the time I finally sat down at the computer it was 20 to 10 on Friday night.  Seriously?  What’s so great about working from home?  Who wants to work at 10 o clock on a Friday night?

There must be some Mums who manage to make it work.  A lot of mums seem to be running home-based businesses off their laptops.  

It’s definitely easier to work with your kids around now that we have such a proliferation of mobile devices and laptops etc. because you can take your work to the park or out into the backyard.  I hear that there are kids who are quite happy to play while Mum types away, but I don’t seem to have one of those kids.  (It might be easier if I had a laptop!)  I’ve had to master the art of typing one-handed with a baby on my lap because the second I go near our computer, Molly will want to be picked up. And it’s not just when I’m doing ‘real’ work, it’s the same if I start doing housework, or any task that requires two hands.  The exact moment that I start chopping tomatoes or carrots, Molly will want to be held.  Have you ever tried cutting a pumpkin one-handed?  If anyone knows how to chop a pumpkin with one hand, please let me know.

The only time I seem to be able to get anything done is when my kids are in bed.

That’s also the time I want to put my feet up and relax with a glass of wine and an episode of Offspring!

But working at night seems to be the only way I can make it work.  Otherwise I get frustrated and cranky that I’m always being interrupted.  The other problem with working from home is that although I’m physically present, I’m not fully present, because I’m always distracted by what I’m trying to get done.  And that can be true whether you’re running a business at home or just tyring to wash and cook for an army of kids.   How do you stop your work from taking over every available part of your time and energy?  How do you make time just to be with your children?  I know a lot of mums feel guilty about leaving their kids to go off to work, but in some ways it’s almost easier if your work is contained at work and you can just leave it there when you go home.

Do you work from home?  Have you tried running a home-based business?  What are the pros and cons of working from home?  Do you find yourself working odd hours like at 4 in the morning or late at night?  If you work from home, how do you stop it from taking over the rest of your life?

This new range from Woolworths Select may be suitable for children with nut allergies.  The choc coated marshmallow eggs don't contain any traces of nuts.  The Egg Lollipops pictured contain traces of tree nuts, but not peanuts.

This new range from Woolworths Select may be suitable for some children with nut allergies. The choc coated marshmallow eggs don’t contain any traces of nuts. The Egg Lollipops pictured contain traces of tree nuts, but not peanuts.

If you are looking for nut-free Easter eggs in Australia, this is your comprehensive guide.  It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to put together a list of where you can get nut-free chocolate at Easter time.  Every year I start to get a lot of google hits on this blog from people looking for info about how to find nut-free Easter eggs.  So I want to make sure that the information I provide is as accurate and up to date as it can be.

Some bad news

For the last few years we have relied on the Heritage ‘Nut-free’ Easter egg range for Easter eggs hunts.  They are normally available from Big W, but seem to have all but disappeared this year.  I did find a 60g Heritage nut-free bunny at one Big W and snagged the very last crate of Heritage 12 milk chocolate easter eggs (205g) but the range was vastly reduced and the limited stock was virtually all sold out.  There were none of the mini eggs that are so good for Easter egg hunts.  I notice the Coles website still says they stock these products, but I haven’t been able to find them on the shelf at any of the Coles supermarkets in my area.  This is a huge blow to kids with nut allergies as those eggs were widely available through Big W and were an affordable option for big Easter egg hunts such as school or church groups.  They also tasted normal.  So far this year I have not yet been able to find ‘nut-free’ Easter eggs that are made of real chocolate to use for an Easter Egg hunt.  Bummer.  I’ll keep looking and let you know if I find anything.

Some good news

There are two positive developments this year that are worth noting.  For those who like their chocolate with a conscience I was very excited to find a Fair Trade peanut-free product for the first time this year.  Belgian Chocolate has a super cute Fair Trade Cool Rabbit, which doesn’t contain traces of peanuts.  It does, however, contain traces of tree nuts.  I am excited that my peanut-allergic 6 year old will be eating slavery-free chocolate for the first time this year!!!  It’s kinda sad that there is so far only one product on the market that is both Fair Trade and peanut-free!  Here’s hoping for more Fair Trade, peanut-free chocolate next year.  If you find something, please let me know.

Also Woolworths has introduced a new nut-free Easter product.  Their choc-coated marshmallow eggs come individually wrapped in a six-pack.  This product doesn’t contain a nut-free guarantee, but the allergy warning lists only milk and soy.  They’re also reasonably priced, so this is most likely to be the product my daughter shares with her school friends this year.  They’re also selling a 10-pack of choc-coated marshmallow bunnies, with the same ingredients.

Some good options

For children who are peanut allergic, but NOT allergic to other nuts or dairy, the Kinder Mini Eggs, 85g are a good option for hunts.  These eggs contain milk, hazelnuts and soy, but no traces of peanuts.  They’re available at Coles supermarkets.  I also discovered today that Aldi have a bag of Dairy Fine solid milk chocolate eggs (600g) which contain milk, soy, wheat and traces of tree nuts, but not peanuts.  Don’t get them confused with the caramel hunting eggs, which do contain traces of peanuts.  For children who are allergic to tree nuts and/or dairy, I would recommend the Sweet William Sweet As Easter Bunnies.  They are made in a dedicated nut-free facility.  They’re also LOW GI, gluten-free and dairy free and they’re individually wrapped for Easter Egg hunts.  (I have to admit, they don’t quite taste like real chocolate, but they look and smell like chocolate so the child who is dairy allergic may not notice!)

If you want to think outside the box and avoid chocolate altogether, then you could consider the The Natural Confectionary Co Jelly confectionary, “Easter Bunies”.   They contain wheat, but not soy and have no artificial colours or flavours so they could be a good choice for children with other intolerances or allergies, such as to lactose or soy.  I am yet to find a chocolate Easter egg or chocolate substitute that doesn’t contain soy so if your child is soy allergic, this may be your only option.  They’re not individually wrapped, so they won’t work well for Easter hunts unless you wrap them yourself.

In the area of Easter Eggs for gifts, there are happily a few more allergy friendly options.  Kinder have a 3 pack of 15 gram bunnies that contain milk and soy but no nuts.  The Kinder Surprise Train contains four 20g eggs containing milk and soy, which makes a lovely little gift, but at $7 for just 4 small eggs (at Woolworths), it would make for a rather expensive Easter egg hunt.   If you’re feeling extravagant the 150g Maxi Kinder Surprise only contains milk and soy and includes a giant surprise toy.  I’m sure any kid would be thrilled to receive that on Easter Sunday.

Thankfully Kinnerton also has their usual range of novelty eggs available at Target.  These come with the Kinnerton nut-free guarantee.  Cute gift ideas include the Kinnerton Where’s Wally Mug and Egg, the Kinnerton Where’s Wally Hunt Bag, (for just $10) and the Kinnerton Hello Kitty trinket tin with egg or the Hello Kitty Ceramic Mug with milk chocolate egg and bar.  Tweens and teens might appreciate the One Direction mug and egg or the One Direction mouse mat and phone case with a nut-free Easter egg.

So there are a few ideas to get you started.  The information below is only intended to be a guide to save you some research time. (I spent 3 days researching this stuff so that you don’t have to!)  Please remember to always read the label carefully.  Check and double check that the product you have matches the specific allergy needs of your child.  Also keep in mind that there can be great variation between products that look the same.  For example, Lindt Gold Bunnies in both milk and dark chocolate (100 and 500g) that are sold individually carry the warning ‘May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds’, but the Lindt Gold Bunny Milk 100g that is sold as a 2-pack in a bag carries the warning ‘May contain traces of peanuts and other nuts’ on the bag.  So please check and double-check that the products you are buying are safe and that it is the exact product mentioned on the list below.

My picture book Marty's Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at www.wombatbooks.com.au

My picture book Marty’s Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at http://www.wombatbooks.com.au

Also, if you find that your child with allergies is being left-out at social occasions like Easter, Christmas and birthday parties, or if your family and friends aren’t making an effort to make their celebrations allergy-friendly, grab them a copy of my picture book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, available through Wombat Books.  (Postage is just $3 to anywhere in the world).  The book helps both adults and kids understand how serious food allergies can be and highlights the importance of making sure children with allergies aren’t left out on social occasions.

Hope you find this helpful.

Happy Easter!

These products are safe/low risk for nut-allergy sufferers


Product Allergy Statement Available From
 Kinnerton 9 piece selection box, 80g  Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promiseContains cow’s milk, soya.No artificial colours, flavours or hydrogenated fat  Big W
Kinnerton Where’s Wally Ceramic Mg and a milk chocolate egg, 65 g Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promise.Contains milk, soya Target
Kinnerton Where’s Wally Easter Egg Hunt Bag, “Hunt for Wally” Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promise. Target
Kinnerton Hello Kitty cute trinket tin with a milk chocolate egg 50g Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promise.Contains milk, soya Target
Kinnerton Hello Kitty Ceramic Mug with Milk chocolate egg and bar, 92g Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promise.Contains milk, soyaMay contain traces of egg. Target
Kinnerton One Direction ceramic mug and milk chocolate egg, 65g and One Direction mouse mat and phone case with milk chocolate eggs, 65g Made with the Kinnerton NUT SAFETY promise.Contains cow’s milk, soya Target
Heritage Nut-Free Bunny, 60gHeritage 12 milk chocolate easter eggs, 205g Made with nut-free chocolateContains milk and soy Big W
Maxi Kinder Surprise, 150gGiant Surprise Inside Contains milk, soy Target, Coles, Big W
Kinder Surprise Easter Train, 4 x 20g eggs. Contains milk, soy Coles, Woolworths, Franklins, Big W
Kinder Bunnies 45g (3 x 15g) Contains milk, soy Coles, Woolworths, Big W
Kinder Surprise Bunny 110g Contains milk, soy Franklins, Big W
Sweet William Sweet As Easter Bunnies, No Added Sugar, Made in a dedicated NUT-FREE facility.  Low GI, Gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free.  Contains soy. Coles
Woolworths Select, Choc-coated marshmallow Bunnies, 10 pack, 200g Contains milk, soybeans Woolworths
Woolworths Select, Choc-coated marshmallow eggs, 6 pack, 120g Contains milk and soy Woolworths
The Natural Confectionary Co Jelly confectionary “Easter Bunnies”, 700g Contains wheat.NOTE: This is the only Easter product I have found that does not contain soy.No artificial colours.No artificial flavours. Coles

Moderate Risk:  These products should be okay for children with mild nut allergies, or children with peanut allergies, who are NOT allergic to other nuts.  These products contain traces of tree nuts, but not peanuts.

Product Allergy Statement Available From
Lindt milk chocolate gold bunny, 100g and 500gsold individually only May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds.  Contains milk. Target, Woolworths, Franklins, Coles, Big W
Lindt dark chocolate bunny, 100g and 500gsold individually only May contain traces of hazelnuts, almonds and milk.NOTE: This product does not actually contain milk, but may contain traces of milk.  It may be suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. Target, Coles, Franklins, Woolworths, Big W
Lindt gold bunny, 5 pack, 50g May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds.  Contains milk. Target, Big W
Park Avenue, Minnie Mouse Disney gift set, 10g, Fruit flavour compressed candy, Made in China No allergy warning, but does not contain milk.Colours 141, 162, 163, 171 Target
Park Avenue, Mick Mouse gift set with candy, 15gMade in China No allergy warning, but does not contain milk.Colours 141, 162, 163, 171 Target
Toblerone, 400g Contains milk, almonds, soya, egg Target, Coles, Big W
Ferrero Rocher, 200g, 375g Contains milk, hazelnuts, gluten, soy Coles, Franklins, Big W
Ferrero Collection, 260g, various chocolates inside Contains milk, gluten, almonds, soy, hazelnuts Coles
Kinder mini eggs, 85g Contains milk, hazelnuts, soy Coles, Big W
Kinder Mix, 86g Contains milk, soy, hazelnuts Franklins, Big W
Belgian Chocolate, Decorated milk chocolate egg, 90g Contains milk and soyMay be present: gluten and tree nuts Coles
Belgian Chocolate, Cool Rabbit Fair Trade 140g Contains milk and soyMaybe be Present: Gluten and tree nuts Coles
Select milk and white Chocolate Easter Bunnies, Assorted Flavours Contains gluten, milk, soybeans.May be present: tree nuts Woolworths
Select Milk Chocolate Egg, Chick or Bunny Lollipop, 40g.Sweet Season Universal Candy Milk Chocolate Bunny, 150 g Contains milk, soybeansMay be present: tree nutsMay contain traces of hazelnuts, almonds and glutenContains milk and soy WoolworthsBig W

High Risk Products – these Easter products are NOT safe for children or adults with peanut or tree nut allergies, especially for those at risk of anaphylaxis

Note:  All Cadbury’s, Red Tulip and Park Avenue Easter chocolate products are unsuitable for people with nut allergies.  Below I have listed some of the more popular products that need to be avoided.

Lindt gold Bunny milk 100g, Two bunnies in a gift bag May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts Target
Lindt gold bunny and egg, 90g, 220g.  Milk chocolate egg and gold bunny May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.  Contains milk Target, Big W
Lindt Gold Bunny Hutch, 50g and Mini Chicks, 50g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.  Contains milk Target
Lindt LINDOR Assorted Eggs 160g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk. Target, Woolworths, Big W
Lindt LINDOR milk, 160 g, 235 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.  Contains milk. Target, Coles, Big W
Lindt Easter Gift, 100g, Milk Chocolate Lindor Eggs with a Gold Bunny Porcelain Cup May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk Target
Lindt Carrots, 80g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk Target, Big W
Bugs and Bees, 100g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk Target, Big W
Lindt Easter Egg milk, 120 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk Target, Big W
Park Avenue Disney Pixar Cars Melamine Breakfast Set with milk chocolate egg, 60g May contain traces of Peanuts, other tree nuts and wheat.Contains milk products, soy. Target, Big W
Park Avenue Dora the Explorer Lentincular cup and sticker sheet with milk chocolate egg, 60 g May contain traces of Peanuts, other tree nuts and wheat.Contains milk products, soy. Target, Big W
Park Avenue Dora the Explorer candy gift set 20g Manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, milk and soy Target, Big W
Park Avenue Barbie candy gift set, 20g Manufactured in a facility that also processes peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, milk and soy Target, Big W
Park Avenue, The Smurfs melamine breakfast set with milk chocolate egg, 60g May contain traces of peanuts, other tree nuts and wheatContains Milk products, soy. Coles, Big W
Park Avenue Hot Wheels melamine breakfast set with milk chocolate egg, 60g May contain traces of peanuts, other tree nuts and wheatContains Milk products, soy. Coles, Big W
Klett milk chocolate sitting bunny, 150 g Traces: peanuts, shell fruits, gluten Target
Klett milk chocolate egg 100g May contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, gluten Target
Klett Duck, 150g Traces: peanuts, shell fruits, gluten Target
Harfords, 18 pack easter eggs, 360 g Gluten FreeProcessed and packed in the same factory as products containing eggs, peanuts, seeds and tree nuts.  Contains milk, soy and suphites. Target
Cadbury No 6 Hollow Egg, 50g May contain traces of nuts.These labels are impossibly difficult to read. Target, Coles, Woolworths, Franklins
Crunchie egg, 110 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts Target, Big W
Cadbury Dairy milk hollow bunny and eggs, 258 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy
Cadbury Dairy Milk 15 hollow eggs, 250 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Target, Big W
Freddo and Friends, 230g May contain traces of egg, peanuts, tree nuts Target
Cadbury Favourites, 260g 300g, 600g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Target, Coles, Franklins, Big W
Cadbury Dairy Milk easter bunny, 180 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Target, Big W
Cadbury Mixed Bag, 250g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Target
Cadbury Smiling Bunny, 100g May contain traces of nuts Target
Cadbury Dream Eggs bag, 130 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Coles, Big W
Cadbury Caramello egg bag 125g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk, wheat glucose syrup and soy Coles, Franklins
Cadbury Turkish Delight egg bag and Cadbury Strawberry Egg Bag, 135 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk, wheat glucose syrup and soy Coles, Franklins
Cadbury Top Deck egg bag, 135 g, May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Franklins
Cadbury Crunchie egg bag, 135 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nutsContains milk and soy Franklins
Cadbury Crème egg bag, 135 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk, wheat glucose syrup and soy Franklins
Red Tulip Birds eggs, 100g May contain traces of nutsContains milk Coles, Big W
Red Tulip Humpty Dumpty Egg, 165g and Humpty Dumpty mini carton, 175 g May contain traces of nuts.Contains milk Target, Woolworths
Moshi Monsters character Eggs 90g May be present: Peanuts, Wheat (gluten) Tree NutsContains milk and soy Woolworths, Big W
Cadbury Egg Crate, 20 pack, 340 g May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts.Contains milk and soy Woolworths, Big W
Select milk chocolate hollow eggs, 20 pack 360 g May be present: gluten, tree nuts, peanuts.Contains milk, soybeans Woolworths
Red Tulip Hollow Eggs May contain traces of nuts Woolworths, Big W

I’ve spent the summer researching a feature article on Starting School with Allergies, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned here.

Anyone who has a child with allergies probably heard about the recent inquest into the death of 16-year-old Sydney student Raymond Cho, who died after eating a biscuit containing nuts at school. The biscuit was given to Raymond by other students who had baked it in a school cooking class.  Hearing about this incident was a huge wake-up call to me, but it also demonstrates the huge responsibility teachers now face looking after children at risk of anaphylaxis.  Thankfully deaths of school students with allergies are extremely rare, but they do happen every few years, so everybody who is part of a school community needs to be aware of allergies and the challenge they present to parents, teachers and students.

So what needs to happen when a child with allergies is starting school for the first time?

Since the death of Raymond Cho, the Department of Education and Communities has released some updated Procedures for public schools.  They’re very new, but there are now some clear things that must happen if a school has a child enrolled with severe allergies.  They must train their staff in anaphylaxis and emergency care, they must keep a spare EpiPen in their first aid kit that can be given to any child, even one who has not been previously diagnosed with an allergy, and they can and should use another child’s EpiPen if they think a child is having a life-threatening allergic reaction.  So check that your school has implemented those things so you can be confident that your child will receive proper emergency care if the worst happens.  You should also check with school staff that your child will be given a second EpiPen if needed.

Secondly, every parent should get a face-to-face meeting with a school representative to work out a unique health care plan for their child.  This is now mandatory. When my daughter enrolled, we just handed in the paperwork and that was that.  What should happen is that you should sit down with the school and together work out some strategies that will reduce the risk of your child having an allergic reaction at school.  Those strategies will be different depending on the child and the specific allergy.  So that might mean sending a note home to the other class parents to tell them about your child’s allergy. You might need to request that they don’t send certain foods to school, like peanut butter sandwiches.  Don’t just assume the school will be nut-free or peanut-free, many schools aren’t.   You might want to speak to the class, and show them a video or read them a book to teach them about allergies.  You might instigate something like making sure the children wash their hands before and after eating, or that they eat lunch supervised in the classroom for ten minutes before heading out to play.  Or you could get a sticker made up for the children’s lunchboxes that says, “Please don’t share food.”   My experience is that even though kids know they’re not supposed to share food, they still do it all the time, so you need to keep pushing that message.  Whatever strategies you decide on, the parents and the school should work it out together to make sure the solutions are workable, both for the child with allergies and for the rest of the school community.

What about the school canteen – is it safe to use?

Parents of children with allergies have to just work out for themselves whether or not they think the canteen is okay for their child.  Personally I’ve decided not to let my daughter use the canteen, because our school uses a huge roster of volunteers, some of whom help out as little as once a month.  With so many people on the roster, it’s inevitable that some of them won’t be clued up on allergies and that mistakes could be made.  Caillie has already been sold products containing traces of nuts from the canteen because the packaging wasn’t checked thoroughly enough.  So again, don’t just assume the canteen will be safe because they say it’s a nut-free canteen.  Find out how it actually operates and then decide if it’s safe.  It only takes one time that they run out of tomato sauce, somebody runs across to Woolies and buys a different brand than usual and suddenly the sauce has traces of peanuts or dairy.

What do parents need to teach the child with allergies so that they can keep themselves safe?

According to Dr Elizabeth Pickford from RPAH Allergy Clinic there are four main things children need to know before starting school

1)    You need to make sure the child knows what they are allergic to and what foods are likely to contain that allergen.  That sounds obvious, but as I go around pre-schools a lot of kids don’t know their own allergies.

2)    They need to know to always ask a trusted adult if foods contain their allergen and that if there is any doubt they should just say ‘no’.  As they get older they should be taught how to read the ingredients themselves.

3)    They and all their friends need to be continually reminded not to share food with other children

4)    If they feel sick, they need to tell the teacher immediately because the teacher can help them.

I also think kids need to know that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their allergies.  Kids who feel different or ashamed are much less likely to speak up when they need to and for children with allergies speaking up is a survival skill.

In all of this, the main thing is ongoing communication, so keep talking to your teacher, the other parents and your child.  And if you have an instinct that things aren’t quite right, then make sure you speak up.  You can’t be shy if your child has a serious allergy.

Useful resources:

You can read the new Anaphylaxis Procedures for NSW Schools here

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (including free online training)

Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia

My children’s book Marty’s Nut-Free Party is a great resource for the classroom

 Trigger Food Allergy Awareness Video, also a great resource for teachers.

I got a bit of a shock this week.  One night, I finished breastfeeding Molly and put her to bed for the night and she refused to sleep.  After trying everything, I wondered if she was hungry and offered her a bottle of milk.  She devoured it so I put her back to bed.  She still wouldn’t settle.  Eventually I got her up again and as we came back into the kitchen she lunged for the empty bottle of milk.  So I gave her another bottle of milk and put her back to bed.  The next morning, when I tried to breastfeed her, she totally refused it.  She wanted the bottle! She has clearly decided she’s weaning, whether I like it or not.

katrina feed bylisajay

Emotionally, I’m not really feeling ready to wean her, but sometimes weaning just happens naturally like that, where the baby loses interest and the milk supply gradually drops away.  Other times the mother wants to stop breastfeeding and the baby has to be almost forced off the breast.  I’d actually prefer it happened this way, where she loses interest, rather than me deciding when to wean her.  But either way, it’s good if it happens gradually so we can both get used to the idea.  There are certainly some bonuses to weaning.  It makes it easier to go out at night or have a sleep-in!  But it’s also hard to give up that beautiful physical closeness that mum and baby spend together when you’re breastfeeding.   There’s nothing quite like holding your baby while she accidently falls asleep playing with your hair.  It’s really special.

But if we’re talking about weaning, the latest catch-cry in parenting is this concept of baby-led weaning.

Molly eating 2

It gets a bit confusing because the term ‘weaning’ means different things to different people.  In the UK, the term means introducing solid foods, whereas in the US it implies giving up breastfeeding.  In Australia, we use the word to mean both things.

Baby led-weaning is just a fancy term that means letting your child feed themselves solid food from the word go.  You don’t spoon-feed them at all.  So rather than feeding your baby rice cereal and purees you just start giving them pieces of real food between their milk feeds.  And ideally you should offer the same types of foods that you are eating.

Molly eating 1

So what are the supposed benefits of baby-led weaning?

1) Well there’s really very little research in this area but advocates of baby-led weaning say it produces less fussy eaters because they’re eating a wide range of foods early on.

2) It’s more sociable – because baby is more likely to eat with the rest of the family

3) It’s good for their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination

4) There is some evidence that baby –led weaning leads to a lower incidence of obesity later in life. This could be because they are learning to self-regulate from the beginning or it may be because of the types of foods that the babies eat – such as more complex carbohydrates.

Molly eating 2

And are there any downsides to baby-led weaning?

It’s very messy and there’s lots of food wasted.  If you’re eating Atlantic salmon it can be disappointing to see so much of it going on the floor.

It is also quite time consuming.  At first the baby doesn’t get much of the food in their mouth so you can spend a lot of time over meals but still not know how much they’ve eaten.

Some people worry about the risk of choking.  It should be a problem, but to be safe, never leave your baby alone when they are eating.

Personally I’ve tried to do a bit of both. I did do purees from four months because my baby wasn’t putting on enough weight.  I also found that filling Molly up with mashed potato or pureed casserole encouraged her to sleep a bit longer at night. But I also tried to use some of the Baby-led weaning principles by offering a wide variety of family finger foods from 6 months.  Baby-led weaning is a relatively new concept, so I think the jury is still out as far as the research goes.

If people want to know more about the idea of Baby-Led Weaning, Gill Rapley is the guru of baby-led weaning in the UK.   She has brochures online and a book and a website where you can get more info.  www.baby-led.com


Illustrator Leigh Hedstrom and I at the launch.
Photo by A. Morris

Well I’ve reached the end of my first week as a real published author!

If you somehow missed the news, my first picture book launched exactly a week ago.

The illustrator, Leigh Hedstrom and I had a little party at the NSW Writer’s Centre (I love that eclectic old place!) with about 60 adults and 40 kids.  We had a ball!

The kids did a colouring competition, which was judged by our MC – the illustrator’s hubby, 2012 Archibald finalist, Ben Hedstrom.  For those who saw the exhibition earlier in the year, Ben did the painting of Sydney band Boy and Bear titled Annandale Band Meeting.  I noted with amusement that the little girl who won the colouring-in competition was the daughter of Thirsty Merc drummer, Karl Robertson, whose wife Diana was performing at the launch.  I was glad their daughter won the colouring competition because both she and her sister have food allergies.  I must admit I’m secretly hoping this connection might precipitate a painting of Thirsty Merc in the next Archibald’s… We’ll have to wait and see!

The kids had lots of fun decorating some monkey cookies and enjoyed the beautiful cupcakes by Bee Allergy Friendly, who make egg-free, nut-free and dairy-free cupcakes and biscuits.  Baking genius Mel Ross, shared with us that she started her business because her first child is allergic to seven of the eight most common allergens.  “It was impossible to find any treats they could eat,” she said, “So I decided to make them myself.  It wasn’t long before I was taking orders from other parents.”

Dr Elizabeth Pickford from RPA Allergy Clinic addressed the crowd on the importance of making sure children with food allergies are not left out of social occasions.

She said the best part of her job is working with families to find solutions that work for them.  “We don’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach to managing allergies,” she said.  I was thrilled that Dr Pickford was able to be there on the night because I think the work she does is so vital.

But now that the party is packed up, and the champagne has stopped flowing, the hard grind of promoting the book and getting the food allergy message out to the community has begun.  (Many authors had warned me that getting the book published is the easy bit – the hard bit is getting it to its readers!)

This morning I read in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australian children have one of the highest rates of food allergies in the world.

Speaking at the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy Conference in New Zealand this week, Professor Johan Garssen admitted that scientists really have no idea why allergies are becoming more common, getting worse and lasting longer into adulthood.  He said, “If I could answer why this is happening, I would win a Nobel prize.”

What I do know is that Aussie Mums, Dads and teachers are on the front line, trying to negotiate the mindfield that is living with a food allergy. 

There are no simple answers and like Dr Pickford said at the launch, there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that will work for everyone.  What I tried to show in the book is that Marty, his Mum and his friends have to work together to keep Marty safe.

With a growing number of allergic children in our community, the burden of care can’t fall onto the parents alone.  We all have to come to the party to keep our kids safe.

I have a confession to make.  I am suffering from a serious case of sleep envy.

My husband is a sports reporter, among other things, and so he works long hours during the Olympics, but the other day after a night shift he stayed in bed til 12pm.  Lunchtime!  It’s not as scandalous as it sounds if you’ve been to bed at 2 or 3 am, but I was soo jealous.

From talking to my friends, I’ve deduced that sleep envy is a common problem among mothers of young babies.

And if you’re not careful a simple case of common sleep envy can escalate into a full-scale sleep war.  It all starts when the husband makes the mistake of lying on the couch, casually yawning and then muttering something along the lines of “Oh, I’m soo tired.”  Now the man may utter these words without even realising he’s said them, but to a sleep-deprived mother, they are a red flag to a bull.  When you’ve been up 3 or 4 times in the night with a sick child, and you then hear the man who slept peacefully through a midnight vomiting episode complain of being tired, well let’s just say it’s a little hard to take.

So Dads unless you are the one getting up all night to tend to the baby, don’t even think about saying the ‘t’ word.

I can cope pretty well with one or two bad nights in a row.  But when it gets to three or four that’s when it all starts to fall apart.  I find that I really have to make a big effort to be patient with the kids when I’m tired.  On those days I’ve learnt to put aside whatever I hoped to get done and just focus on looking after the children as best I can.

The other problem for breastfeeding Mums is that if you don’t get enough sleep then your milk supply drops and that starts a vicious cycle where the baby needs to feed more often because your milk supply is low, and so you can’t get as much sleep.  When that happens I find I really do have to rest during the day.  Forget about all your other commitments, your cleaning, your washing, your social life, just try to eat well and rest. I’m somebody who hates to let other people down, but sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ and take care of yourself.

So what can Dads do to support sleep-deprived Mums?

Breakfast in bed always goes down well!  If you are breastfeeding, then it really does have to be Mum who gets up in the night and tends to the baby, so there’s not always a lot that Dads can do, even if they want to help. But every Mum should have at least one designated sleep-in day.  When we had Birdy I was up early every day because I always had to breastfeed her.  Then eventually I realised that if you do the first morning feed in bed, then you can pass the baby to hubby when you’re finished and he can sometimes get up first.

I think it’s a really good idea for both Mum and Dad to have a designated sleep-in day. 

Then there are no arguments about who stays in bed, it’s just set in stone that on Saturday Dad gets up with the kids.  (Notice how I said, ‘Gets up with the kids’.  Not puts on cartoons and goes back to bed!)

Also, men, here’s a tip for you: if Mum does complain of being tired, it doesn’t mean she needs you to come up with a solution.

Men tend to want to fix things.  So when I say ‘I’m tired’ my husbands first response will be to say, “Well go to bed earlier” or ‘Have a nap during the day.”  But as Mum’s we find it hard to switch off.  We can’t go to bed when the kitchen isn’t clean or the washing’s not put away.  That just means starting the next day even further behind.  So when we say we’re tired, sometimes all we really want is a bit of understanding and TLC.  There’s nothing so good as a cup of tea that somebody else has made for you, or a really nice dinner that somebody else has cooked for you, or half an hour with a good book while your husband takes the kids to the park.  Then hopefully sleep envy is less likely to escalate into a full-scale sleep war!

PS.  I’m so tired I forgot to upload this post on Monday and didn’t remember until Thursday.

PPS.  Full Brownie points to hubby who was up last night trying to settle an inexplicably unsettled Molly.  I let him stay in bed this morning!

Have you ever suffered from a case of sleep envy?  How do you and your partner (if you have one) work things out so that both of you can get some sleep?

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