Diet & Nutrition

Vegan mum's sacrifice: 'I ate meat for my baby'

Born with chronic allergies, things looked bleak for wee Clover, but now mother and daughter are both thriving

Vegan for eight years, Stephanie Campbell never imagined she'd eat meat again, but when her exclusively breastfed newborn developed debilitating allergies, she turned to an extreme diet of just lamb, leek and green beans.
For more than a year, Stephanie followed the strict regime three times a day. Even a few bites of something different caused severe and painful reactions, including internal bleeding, for baby Clover.Stephanie remembers the first time Clover, then four months old, had blood in her nappy and was told by her GP to drive immediately to Dunedin Hospital, more than three hours from their Wānaka home.
There followed a nervous wait, with little Clover eventually being diagnosed with allergic colitis, a painful condition where a baby's immune system overreacts to food proteins, leading to inflammation in the colon, bleeding in the bowel and blood in stools.
'I felt so broken that I was willing to try anything'
Stephanie followed doctors' recommendations and cut out all allergenic foods that could be causing the condition, such as dairy, eggs, shellfish, gluten and nuts. As a vegan, Stephanie wasn't eating many of these foods anyway, but she became vigilant about avoiding any trace of dairy and soy. When this made no difference, she temporarily stopped breast-feeding and tried prescription allergy formulas.
But the 32-year-old was devastated when the specialised formula made Clover's symptoms even worse, so she started breast-feeding again.
"There was blood in every nappy. She couldn't gain weight, no matter how much I fed her because she couldn't absorb my breast milk," recalls Stephanie.
An unsettled baby was nothing new to the experienced mum, whose first daughter Ari, now five, also had food intolerances, reflux and colic. But Clover's symptoms were relentless. She was often in pain, regularly covered in hives and screamed for hours before passing out from exhaustion.
Desperate to help her baby, Stephanie tried everything – doctors, specialists, nutritionists, dietitians, naturopaths, osteopaths, chiropractors and multiple supplements, but nothing worked. The first breakthrough came when another mum suggested a total elimination diet of only lamb, leek and green beans, which are considered amongst the least allergenic foods.
"At this point, I felt so broken that I was willing to try anything so Clover could thrive, even if it meant putting my ethics and health aside, which it did. It meant not being vegan any more and I got to the point I was a skeleton," says Stephanie, who still vividly remembers how confronting it was eating meat for the first time in almost a decade.
But incredibly, within 48 hours of starting the diet, Clover had blood-free nappies and was a completely different, settled baby.
Amazed by the transformation, Stephanie and her husband Matt began to dream of life returning to normal. But it was shortlived. Every time they tried to introduce a new food, Clover suffered. Within an hour of Stephanie eating one piece of swede and breastfeeding Clover, she was yelling in pain with blood in her nappy again.
"She was waking up 10 times a night screaming like she was possessed. I remember videoing it because the doctors didn't believe me."
Stephanie felt trapped. The only way to help her daughter was to eat lamb, leek and beans, but meanwhile her own health was rapidly declining and she developed shingles.
Clover's allergies are now a thing of the past.
The young family also barely left home as Clover's specific sensitivities meant she could only eat freshly prepared food, so Stephanie was constantly in the kitchen.
It seemed hopeless until she learnt about anaerobic ferments – a process of fermenting vegetables in an oxygen-free environment for 21 days to create health tonics that help repair the gut.
She ordered the equipment needed from Australia and anxiously waited more than a month as lockdowns delayed shipping. But it proved to be well worth the wait.
After two weeks drinking the carrot, beetroot and cabbage ferments daily, they slowly began to trial new foods and miraculously there were no reactions.
Within one month, Clover, who was 17 months old and following the same restricted diet as Stephanie, went from only having three safe foods to being able to eat more
than 50 different items.
"We honestly couldn't believe it," recalls Stephanie, who believes the tonics have repaired Clover's gut health so she can process food again. "It was so freeing after so long of fail after fail and
so much anxiety because it was distressing seeing her so uncomfortable."
Now two years old, Clover is almost unrecognisable from the miserable, rash-covered baby of her early life. The whole family continues to take the fermented tonics daily, both Clover and Stephanie are the picture of health, and can eat without restrictions. Stephanie has returned to a plant-based diet.
It's changed their lives so much that, encouraged by a friend who's now her business partner, Stephanie has started a business, Clover Ferments, making tonics to support other struggling families and those looking to improve their gut health.
"I never expected this. I'm a trained primary school teacher and I didn't know anything about business, but it worked for our family and I'm so happy it's helping others too."
Stephanie has since had her third daughter, Stella, four months, and is delighted to share they have had no allergies or issues this time around.