Food allergies in breastfed babies

For any mom that is breastfeeding, baby allergies to certain food products can be a worry. No mommy wants to make her baby sick with the foods she is eating.

That’s why it’s essential for all breastfeeding moms to know the signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for, and what to do if it seems that your baby may have a food allergy.

It’s important to look out for signs of any food intolerance in breastfed babies. Keeping an eye on your new baby after they eat and watching for any signs of distress will help eliminate and relieve any discomfort they may possibly be feeling.

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Image: Olga Alper/Shuttetstock

Breastfeeding allergies

Allergies in infants can be caused by breastfeeding when the mother eats or drinks something that the baby is allergic to, or has an intolerance to. Allergic reactions can be anywhere from mild to extreme and can develop over time, not necessarily showing the first time the baby comes into contact with the allergen.

“It is important to remember that it’s not your fault if your baby is having a reaction to allergens from your breast milk.”

Babies allergic to breast milk

It may look like your baby is allergic to your breast milk, but actually they are more likely allergic to the foods that you are eating. The allergen is being passed on through the breast milk. So, if you eat a peanut butter sandwich and then feed your little one, who could be allergic to peanuts, it may cause a reaction.

Food sensitivity in breastfed babies

Breastfeeding and food allergies are not usually closely linked and breastfed babies are not usually affected by what the mother consumes. In fact, most studies have claimed that breastfeeding your child can help avoid any food allergies.

There is an unfortunate few, however, that start to see food intolerance or allergy signs in their babies who are breastfed, usually just after feeding.

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Image: A3pfamily/Shutterstock

Baby food intolerance symptoms

A food intolerance arises when the body is unable to digest certain foods for various reasons. Intolerances cause symptoms similar to allergies, but these won’t be life-threatening.

Babies who have a food intolerance will display varying symptoms and each food will show symptoms differently. The amount of food or drink that the infant is exposed to will also cause varying degrees of symptoms.

Most common food intolerances in babies

While your baby can develop an intolerance to a wide range of food products, these are the most commonly seen:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts and tree nuts
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Shellfish
  • Other fish and soybeans
  • Gluten
  • Soya

Occasionally, children can also be allergic to sesame, kiwi and lupin.

Lactose sensitivity symptoms in infants

Lactose intolerance can cause your baby to experience a long list of symptoms. As with most food sensitivities, the symptoms will vary depending on how bad the intolerance is and how much lactose your baby consumes.

Some symptoms to look out for are:

  • Vomiting
  • Loud bowel sounds from baby’s tummy
  • Diarrhoea and loose, watery stools
  • Baby being unsettled and crying incessantly
  • Wind trapped that won’t break
  • Flatulence and excessive gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Unwillingness to feed
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Acute diaper rash
  • Extreme paleness
  • Colic
  • Colitis

If the symptoms are extreme and include a rash, projectile vomiting, blood in stool or difficulty breathing, it is most likely not simply an intolerance to lactose causing them. Your baby should then be checked for a milk protein allergy.

baby-with-food-intolerance

Newborn food allergy symptoms

An allergy is different to an intolerance; allergies are much more serious but less common than intolerances. Allergies will cause more severe symptoms and can at times be life-threatening.

Food allergies in breastfed infants, while not common, can cause both emotional and physical distress. Newborns can experience allergy symptoms after drinking breast milk that contains traces of allergens.

If your infant has any of the following symptoms after feeding, they most likely are having an allergic reaction to a food product that you have consumed.

These symptoms will require medical attention:

  • Hives or welts
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

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Symptoms of dairy allergy in breastfed babies

Babies exposed to cow’s milk before they are six months old have a high risk of developing an allergy to cow’s milk protein. This will make them unable to consume any dairy.

Symptoms of a dairy allergy include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Eczema
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hives
  • Stuffy, itchy nose

Signs of peanut allergy in breastfed baby

If your baby has a peanut allergy, you will start to see the symptoms almost immediately. Some babies will show signs of an allergy the very first time they are exposed to nuts, while others will only show signs the second time they consume peanuts or nuts.

Look out for:

  • Hives around your baby’s mouth, nose and eyes, which may spread across their body
  • Swelling of the lips, eyes and face
  • Runny or blocked nose, sneezing and watery eyes
  • Itchy mouth and irritated throat
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea

Signs of a milk protein allergy in breastfeeding infants

Less than 1% of babies who are breastfed are said to develop a milk protein allergy to their mother’s milk. So, generally, there is not a high risk for your newborn. It does, however, happen. Most commonly, symptoms show up on the baby’s skin, but others can arise as well.

These symptoms include:

  • Skin problems, such as:
    • Eczema
    • Patches of dry skin
    • Cradle cap
    • Nappy rash/sore bottom
    • Rashes
    • Hives
    • Swelling of the eyelids or lips
    • Flushed cheeks
    • Skin may be unusually pale
  • Stomach or intestinal problems, such as:
    • Reflux
    • Signs of tummy ache or diarrhoea
    • Green poo
    • Allergic proctocolitis (poop with blood in it)
    • An inflamed oesophagus (eosinophilic oesophagitis)
    • Flatulence
    • Constipation
  • Breathing problems, such as:
    • Snuffles or cold-like symptoms
    • Frequent ear infections
    • A persistent cough
    • Wheezing or asthma
  • Fussing
  • Crying
  • Difficulty gaining weight
  • Trouble sleeping

mom-holding-crying-baby

What you can do for breastfed babies with allergies

Firstly, if your baby does have food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies, don’t panic. This does not mean the end of breastfeeding, nor does it mean that your baby is going to go hungry.

If you notice your infant displaying any of the symptoms we have mentioned above, take note of how often this happens, as well what you ate before you fed. You want to try and figure out what exactly is causing these symptoms. This way you can prevent your little one from coming into contact with these products again.

mom-bottle-feeding-baby

Also, take note of the difference between intolerance to foods and allergic reactions to foods. If you notice allergy symptoms showing up after a feed, make sure that you seek out medical help. It is important to remember that it’s not your fault if your baby is having a reaction to allergens from your breast milk.

Some moms feel guilty for consuming the foods that are causing their babies pain and distress, but there are many options available in today’s world, from specialised formulas, to changing up your diet to accommodate feeds when needed. With the help of your GP, you can figure out what is causing the symptoms and work on ways to relieve and prevent them in the future.

Also read:

Balanced nutrition and hydration for breastfeeding moms
Best formula and remedies for colicky babies in South Africa

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