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Debate Club: Should Schools Be Nut-Free?

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Yes, please.

by: Jackie Semmens

How can this be happening? I thought to myself, watching my one-year-old’s body turn red as the hives spread across his chest. We had done everything by the book: I hadn’t avoided nuts during my pregnancy; I exposed him to peanuts early like the pediatricians recommend. But here we were, driving to the emergency room. The allergist later confirmed – my baby was allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts.

Thus began a new set of rituals at our house – meticulously reading each and every food label, digging wrappers out of the trash to find out if he can eat the crackers a friend offered him at a playdate, avoiding restaurants unless we can be sure of what they serve, giving each babysitter a detailed list of instructions on what to do if he has a reaction, and carrying an EpiPen with us wherever we go.

As my son starts preschool this year, we have rehearsed a certain interaction over and over. “What do you say if someone hands you food?” I drill him. “I say, ‘No, thank you! I’m allergic. I have my own.’” We quiz him again and again, reminding him that he is allergic to nuts and to dairy, and that he can never share food with a friend.

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We confirmed with the teacher before he started that his room would be nut-free, and knowing that the teacher and fellow parents are willing to help give him a safe environment helps to ease some of my concern. Nut-free environments for our youngest learners helps ensure that all children, even those with food allergies, have access to education while remaining safe and healthy.

Although my son is also allergic to dairy, we’re typically more concerned about his nut allergies when he’s in public, not only because, for him, it’s a more severe allergy, but also because of the nature of nut allergies. As anyone who has ever made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or fed one to a toddler) knows, peanut butter is sticky and likely to end up spread across multiple surfaces before the meal is over.

Although it’s unlikely that an allergic child will have an anaphylactic reaction from mere contact, young children are forever sticking fingers, toys, and even crayons in their mouth, creating the potential for accidental ingestion. And for an unlucky few, even exposure to airborne particles can be enough to trigger a reaction. While severe food allergies are fairly rare, reactions to peanuts are the leading cause of anaphylaxis and death related to food allergy in the United States.

While some maintain that it’s the duty of families with allergies to prepare their child for the “real world,” the truth is that by the time they are old enough to enter that world, they will have a better understanding of the severity of their allergies and the steps they need to take in order to protect themselves.

We don’t send kindergarteners across the street alone just because they will need to do so when they’re older; we require that they hold our hands. It’s similar with allergies – we need to enlist the help of the community to create a nut-free environment while young children are still learning how to navigate their allergy independently.

I have a great deal of sympathy for parents who are frustrated at schools that don’t allow them to pack the simple and economical PB&J for their child’s lunch, or are annoyed at the difficulty of finding an allergy-friendly treat to bring in for special occasions. I share in those frustrations on a daily basis, and curse under my breath every time I see the price of SunButter.

I know what it’s like to have to deny your child something they desperately want to eat, like when they want to know why they can’t eat the same cookies everyone else at the birthday party is enjoying. I follow these restrictions on a daily basis, and without a second thought, because they could save my child’s life. I don’t wish to minimize what I’m asking other parents to do, because I realize I’m requesting that others make a sacrifice that doesn’t benefit them at all. But it greatly helps my child. And I do know this – I would do it for your kid in a heartbeat, especially if it meant saving their life.

While pediatricians do not recommend avoidance of nuts for children without the allergy, as it can actually increase the likelihood of peanut allergy, for children with the allergy, strict avoidance of the allergen is currently the only recommended way to prevent a serious reaction. Even if a non-allergic child attends a nut-free school, this does not prevent them from regularly enjoying peanuts and tree nuts when they are at home. However, there is no reason that consumption of nuts must be done around children who do have allergies. In fact, accidental exposure to peanuts and severe reactions are actually on the decline, likely due to greater public awareness and accidental exposure prevention strategies. As communities have become more conscious of food allergies, children have been made safer.

Raising children is never a solitary venture. We rely on the support of families, friends, and our community to help create safe environments for our kids. Just as we help our children safely cross the parking lot into the school, as a community, we should pull together to help make sure that all children, even those with severe food allergies, are safe when they arrive.

No, thank you.

by: Varda Epstein

I’ve heard (anecdotally) of a guy who dropped dead at a bus stop in my town after kissing his spouse. She’d eaten a cookie that had trace amounts of peanuts in it just moments before. He died so quickly that no one had time to find and use his EpiPen. That was in the 1980s when trace amounts of ingredients were not yet listed on food labels in my adopted country of Israel.

That has changed. By law, Israeli food labels must now include a warning of possible trace amounts of allergens in food products. Still, there was, and is no thought of banning nuts in Israeli schools, even today.

In fact, far from banning nuts from schools and daycare centers, the peanut is urged on babies and children in the form of a peanut-flavored snack called Bamba. Bamba are exactly like Cheese Doodles without the cheese. Or rather, instead of cheddar, the little puffs are flavored with peanut butter.

Bamba takes the place of the Cheerio for Israeli babies. They fit nicely in a baby’s fist and when gummed, melt into goo for easy swallowing. Because they’re so much a part of the infant diet, the Osem company, which produces the little snack puffs, fortifies them with vitamins.

Which is a good thing. Because I don’t know about your babies, but most of mine went through a picky period where they didn’t like anything I tried to feed them. Other than Bamba, that is. Even when they were cranky from teething, they’d eat Bamba. With Bamba I knew my kids were getting their vitamins, eating something, and I didn’t have to worry.

So here’s where it gets really interesting: my second child (of 12) was and is allergic to several foods, including peanuts and other nuts. Yet as an infant, I had no clue this was the case, as she too, did just fine on Bamba. Her allergies never developed to the point of anaphylactic shock, thank goodness, and in light of a March 2015  study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, I do believe that we have Bamba, the peanut-flavored snack, to thank for this fact.

The study in question was the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial; an attempt to discover whether the “early introduction of dietary peanut could serve as an effective primary and secondary strategy for the prevention of peanut allergy.” The LEAP researchers, based in the United Kingdom, used Bamba, purchased at a discount from Osem, as their primary source for peanut protein.

The findings of the LEAP study suggest that medical advice calling for avoidance of exposure to peanuts had actually caused the rate of peanut allergy among American children to skyrocket. Meanwhile, feeding babies Bamba during an infant’s first year of life, beginning at around age seven months, appeared to lower the risk of developing peanut allergies by 81%. Furthermore, in those children who ate Bamba as babies and then went on to develop peanut allergies (like my daughter, for instance), the allergic responses appeared to be far milder in nature.

This study was groundbreaking. For the first time, researchers had proof that early exposure to allergenic foods could prevent or lessen allergic reactions. The hope going forward is that research will manage to produce similar results using allergenic foods like soy, eggs, and dairy, for instance.

The study of immunization and food allergies has a long way to go, of course. As a teenager, I received allergy shots for pollen and other airborne allergens. But I was told no such therapy was available for food allergies. The Bamba study seems to have blown that myth right out of the water.

But if that’s the case, why are we banning peanuts from all places where children congregate? Places like schools, daycare centers, and yes, summer camps? Here’s the truth: we’ve created a nut-free society because of poor – or at least outdated – medical advice.

Schools would not tremble at the sight of a peanut butter sandwich had we not stopped feeding kids peanut butter. So how did it happen? When did we decide peanut butter was dangerous to the point that we made it dangerous?

It began in the 1990s when a slew of newspaper headlines such as, “Little Girl Drops Dead After Eating PB&J,” appeared. Parents read those headlines and freaked. At the same time, medical journals began to be full of articles about serious peanut allergies. Soon we had an epidemic on our hands.

Peanut Panic

Or did we? Researcher Miranda Waggoner, is convinced the epidemic was more a peanut “panic” than an actual rise in severe peanut allergies. According to Waggoner, severe peanut allergies remain rare. The reported tripling of the rate of peanut allergies was, she says, a social construct (with the aid of experts who spread the fear among the public), rather than an actual contemporary public health issue.

In other words, experts and the media raised awareness of severe peanut allergies to the point of hyper-awareness. As a result, peanut bans were instituted, and this in turn affected the immune systems of our children because we avoided exposing them to nuts. We prevented them from developing their immune systems to the point of resisting peanut allergy, by depriving them of peanut butter.

While the LEAP trial involved giving children Bamba at a very young age, rather than school age, it is quite possible that nut-free schools may actually contribute to nut allergies, by limiting exposure to nuts. No one can say this for sure, right now. What we can say is that if you look at the actual number of children experiencing severe reactions to peanuts, you will find it is a very low number, indeed.

Trying to find the actual number of school children with peanut allergies was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Waggoner found that only 1% of the American population has a reported allergy to peanuts. If you look at how many of those Americans are children, you are looking at a number that is less than 1%.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says that 400,000 American school children have peanut allergies. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) puts the total number of American school children at 50.4 million. That means that .79% of school children have peanut allergies, but this figure says nothing of the severity of their allergies. How many of those children are going to have a severe anaphylactic shock in response to someone eating a peanut next to them?

If your child has a known, severe allergy to peanuts, it makes sense you’d approach the school and ask that precautions be taken. But nut-free schools in general? They’re hurting more kids than they’re helping.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Beyoncé's new Netflix documentary Homecoming hit the streaming service today and gives us an honest look at how difficult her twin pregnancy was.

"My body went through more than I knew it could," she says in the film, revealing that her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi was a shock right from the beginning, and the surprises kept coming.

In the film she reveals that her second pregnancy was unexpected, "And it ended up being twins which was even more of a surprise," she explains.

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The pregnancy was rough. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about 5 to 8% of pregnancies and results in high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia poses risks to both the mother and the baby. People who are pregnant with multiples, like Beyoncé was, are more at risk to develop preeclampsia, and the only real cure for the condition is to give birth, which proved to be another medical challenge for Beyoncé.

"In the womb, one of my babies' hearts paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section," she shares in the film.

Thankfully, Beyoncé made it through her extremely difficult pregnancy, but the physical challenges didn't end there. The road to rehabilitation for the performer was difficult because, as she explains, she was trying to learn new choreography while her body was repairing cut muscles and her mind just wanted to be home with her children.

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"There were days that I thought I'd never be the same. I'd never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same," Beyoncé recalls.

We know that becoming a mother changes us in so many ways, and in Homecoming, Beyoncé shows the world the strength that mothers possess, and rejects any ideas about "bouncing back."

Becoming a mother is hard, but it is so worth it, and Beyoncé isn't looking backward—she's looking at a mother in the mirror and loving who and what she sees. "I just feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter of my life and I'm not even trying to be who I was," Beyoncé said in the documentary. "It's so beautiful that children do that to you."

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women.

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved. Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.

That is, until, I became a mom.

When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.

A nap schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.

Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game in another way by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.

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For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.

Managing a toddler was definitely wild, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect. All was fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfection.

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" as it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.

I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my idea of picture-perfect motherhood. Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.

Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did. And so I still am, practicing being imperfect.

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