Saturday, February 23, 2013

Poison Oak is NO FUN

About a year and a half ago I read an article about a mom who contracted poison ivy dermatitis from her nursing toddler. The possibility makes sense; the toddler runs around and comes in contact with poison ivy (or poison oak, which is what we have out here in the west) which has a toxic oil called urushiol on its leaves (and stems and roots), then transfers that oil to the mother's clothes and skin when it is time to snuggle and/or nurse.

The article was on my mind a few weeks ago. I have an active toddler who is nursing, and I knew that I was at risk of getting something from her. But I was more worried about getting dirt and leaves in the bed, or picking up some random germs from her hands.

Then, last Tuesday, Lost Boy said, "I think I have poison oak." And he showed me his arms. Yes, that looks like poison oak. He and 2Flowers had been on adventuring along a creek on Sunday, and had gone to the river to look for ducklings on Monday. A few hours after he noticed the rash on his arms, I noticed a rash on my belly. Oh dear.


I'm eight and a half months pregnant and so uncomfortable that it is difficult to snuggle 2Flowers. I can hardly pick her up, and she can't sit on my lap. So nursing is the only time we have to be physically close. She curls herself around my huge belly (and when Baby O kicks her, she looks up at me and smiles) and latches on. I cradle her head and brush back her hair, and tell her I love her. She puts her free arm under my shirt so she can touch my skin; usually she shoves her arm under my nursing bra so that her whole arm is in contact with  my chest and her hand is resting on my neck. It is lovely and peaceful. It doesn't usually  last long because I get uncomfortable quickly. But I love the few minutes when we are at peace with each other and I feel like I'm being a good mom (since I can barely keep up with her otherwise).

Whenever she comes back from her adventures with Lost Boy or Aunt V, 2Flowers is cold and tired and usually wants to nurse. After a few minutes of nursing she will fall asleep and have a nap. Sunday and Monday were no exception. Except on one of those days, there was urushiol on her clothes...

So now I have poison oak dermatitis on my huge pregnant belly, on my breasts, chest, neck, arms, face, and fingers. Lost Boy has it on his arms, neck, and face. 2Flowers hasn't broken out, thank goodness!; I don't think I could handle taking care of her poison oak as well as my own. I am super sensitive to urushiol. I break out when I eat mangoes (mangoes have urushiol on their skin), and have had exceptionally bad reactions to poison ivy in the past (I had a horrific case of it when I was a missionary in New York City). The rash is just as bad as I remember it.

I regretted not taking more pictures of it when I had it in NYC, so here is some documentation of my discomfort:








The itching is so overwhelming that I don't even remember how uncomfortable it is to be eight months pregnant. Before I got the rash I was ready for Baby O to come. My belly itched and was uncomfortable  It was so much work to get up and move around. Now, that was nothing. I can barely imagine going into labor, although I was imagining it and dreaming about it every day last week. I love this quote about the intensity of the itching, "urushiol is such a potent antigen, it is estimated that 500 people could itch from the amount covering the head of a pin and one-quarter ounce would be enough to cause a reaction in every person on earth."*  That is powerful stuff!

It usually takes up to two weeks for my reaction to eating a mango to go away. The reaction I had in NYC lasted much longer, possibly three weeks with another two week relapse. I really don't want to have to deal with the rash while I'm in labor, so we are praying for it to run it's course as quickly as possible. And even though having poison oak dermatitis does not make it necessary to stop nursing, we have stopped nursing so that I can heal as quickly as possible and avoid any secondary reinfections that might occur. 2Flowers has been dealing with this relatively well. I tell her that we have to wait for the sores (or owies) to go away before we can nurse again. But I also can't snuggle her wiggly little body because of the discomfort and that is harder to deal with.

The moral of my story is; pay attention to when poison oak season starts, wash your toddler after all outdoor adventures, and wash your mangoes with soap before you peel them.



*LLLI > Helping a Breastfeeding Mother with Poison Ivy Dermatitis by Sue Iwinski, AAPL

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