Infant Food Allergies and Sensitivities While Breastfeeding

Recent research suggests that the earlier the culprit foods are introduced into the baby's system, the less likely they are to develop an allergy.

crawling baby, big baby eyes
Crawling baby with big beautiful eyes.

Breastfeeding and Infant Food Allergies

Most babies are not fussy as a result of food allergies. These colic symptoms are usually due to growth spurts, acid reflux, and healthy baby development.

Recent research suggests that it is not necessary for breastfeeding mothers to avoid any dairy products within the first few weeks after the baby's birth.

A mother should notice a difference in her baby’s behavior after eating certain foods, but fussiness on its own is not a sign of food sensitivity. Below are some symptoms of food allergies to look out for.

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Breastfeeding Protects

Allergies are common in non-breastfed babies. Colostrum contains high concentrations of sIgA, an anti-infective that coats the baby's gut; this prevents the passage of foreign proteins and germs that cause allergic reactions.

Even a tiny amount of formula can alter your baby's gut protection against bacteria for a month! Therefore, increasing the risk of allergies and diabetes. If the mother's breast milk is unavailable, donor breast milk should be considered first. Formula should always be used as a last resort.

More about the gut protection that breast milk offers.

More about the immune protective properties of breast milk.

Baby Food Allergy Symptoms

  • Eczema, hives, and dry, reddened skin (mostly found on the face).
  • Chest wheezing, asthma, and trouble breathing.
  • Colic, constant crying, and poor sleeping patterns.
  • Acid reflux and vomiting.
  • A runny nose and red, itchy eyes.
  • Diarrhea, constipation, and diaper rash.
  • Less absorption of nutrients can cause weight loss.
  • Anaphylaxis may also occur, but this is a very severe reaction towards an allergen, which can be fatal and usually involves restriction (swelling closed) of the airway.

Should I Continue to Breastfeed?

Infant food allergy Fact ~ Breastfeeding protects against food sensitivity in infants, and for later in life. Also, breastfeeding strengthens a baby’s immune system and digestive system, providing more immunity against food sensitiveness.

Should I continue to breastfeed if my baby is allergic to some foods?

Yes, the mother needs to continue to breastfeed. She should take her baby for allergy tests to determine which food is causing the allergy. Once she knows the specific culprit food, she will need to eliminate it from her diet.

She should avoid all dairy products if a baby is allergic to cow’s milk. A reaction towards a specific food can show immediately or only after 24 hours.

The mother should stay away from the specific food for at least four weeks to see if her baby still has the same symptoms.

Some babies may experience worsened symptoms for about a week after eliminating the food problem.

Most Common Food Allergies

Some common foods that cause food allergies include; peanuts, shellfish, cow's milk protein, eggs, wheat, citrus fruits, fish, soy, and food additives.

More about foods to avoid while breastfeeding.

What Causes Allergies?

If you introduce solid foods too soon or formula before four months, your baby is more likely to develop an allergy or food sensitivity—more about this below.

cow, dairy, milk and cheese
Father holding baby. 

Cow Milk Sensitivity

When babies are sensitive to cow's milk, the protein in the milk causes the problem, not the lactose; this is why switching to lactose-free products will not help. A milk protein allergy can create all of the symptoms mentioned above.

The mother must eliminate all cow’s milk protein forms, including cream, yogurt, butter, and cheese—also anything containing casein, caseinate, sodium and calcium caseinate, lactalbumin, or whey. The mother will need to start reading food labels.

Most of these babies will outgrow their sensitivities by the age of two. It's best to wait until your baby is six months old before introducing dairy products into your diet again.

Egg Allergies

Babies with egg allergies may also be allergic to albumin, dried eggs, egg powder, egg solids, ovomucin, ovomucoid, ovovitellin, ovalbumin, livetin, and Simplesse. Egg allergy symptoms are the same as the symptoms mentioned above.

Peanut Allergy

One in every 150 children are affected by peanut allergies. A peanut allergy can be quite severe in some cases.

Traces of peanuts can be found in almost anything; they can even be found in baby formula, ice cream, and cereals.

Nut allergy symptoms are also the same as the symptoms mentioned above.

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Waiting to Introduce Solids?

Your baby's digestive tract needs to mature before you start to introduce solid foods. Why? Because of two things, namely: Allergens and Enzymes.

If you give your child solid foods before the four-month mark, the lining of your baby's intestines are not yet sealed off properly against allergens; this causes problems like eczema.

Before the four-month mark, your baby is also not producing sufficient Enzymes for breaking down foods. So when you give your baby foods before this period, it might result in runny stools, gas issues, and undigested food (which means that your child is not absorbing all the nutrients in the food).

More about the introduction of solids here.

Treatment Options for Food Sensitivities

  • Food elimination should only be done, as discussed above, if tests prove that there is a real allergy.
  • Medication.
  • Allergy tests.
  • Immunotherapy.

Prevention of All Food Intolerances

  • Breastfeeding exclusively for at least four months can reduce the risk of infant allergy, the occurrence of eczema, and the development of asthma.
  • Other than the ones that cause the mother any allergic reactions, any culprit foods do not need to be avoided in her diet. Recent research suggests that the earlier the culprit foods are introduced into the baby's system, the less likely they are to develop an allergy.

Reference: Sage journals, Infant food allergy - where are we now?