Breastfeeding a baby with food allergies

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Did you know the foods you’re eating may be what’s upsetting your newborn’s tummy?

Babies often get gassy and irritable due to their immature immune systems, but if these symptoms frequently appear after nursing, it could be a negative reaction to something you’re eating.

“Most moms can eat anything they like during breastfeeding and experience no issues,” says Dr. Amy Evans, a pediatrician at UCSF Fresno and medical director for the Mother’s Resource Center at Community Regional Medical Center. But occasionally antigens — foreign substances — can secrete into the mother’s breastmilk and their baby’s bloodstream through nursing, causing the baby’s immune system to fight off these unfamiliar intruders.

Symptoms and common food allergens

Even a baby who has never been formula-fed or had any food besides breast milk may show signs of a food allergy. “The most common type of response is that the baby will get irritable, cranky and bloated shortly after nursing. Sometimes they may even vomit, have diarrhea or have mucus-y stools with small amounts of blood,” explains Dr. Evans. “Mostly these babies look healthy, are gaining weight and thriving.” If your baby is experiencing any of these symptoms call your pediatrician.

The most common culprit is cow’s milk, which is caused by the baby reacting to the protein in dairy. It’s important to understand that a dairy allergy and lactose intolerance are different. Lactose is a sugar found in human milk that babies can digest. Besides dairy, other common food allergens are eggs, fish, nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy and wheat.

The challenge is discovering which foods your baby is reacting to. One way to help determine this is for mom to keep a daily food journal of the foods she’s consuming and her baby’s symptoms in the following hours. A pattern of worsening symptoms may be noticeable whenever certain foods are eaten.

Treatment with an elimination diet

If a pediatrician has diagnosed your breastfed baby with a food allergy, you may be wondering what to do next. Is it safe to continue to breastfeed? According to Dr. Evans, most often the answer is yes!

Breastfeeding an infant with a food allergy is possible if the mother is committed to a strict elimination diet, says Dr. Evans. This means the most common food allergens will need to be eliminated from the mom’s diet one-by-one to determine which is causing the baby’s tummy troubles. The mother must be diligent about reading food labels and knowing what ingredients are in the foods she’s consuming.

If the mother can successfully eliminate the correct allergen from her diet, she’ll see improvements in her baby’s behavior in three to four days. However, it could take up to two weeks for the baby’s gut to heal and to see complete improvement in the baby’s stools.

Will a baby outgrow an allergy?

Although a mother may need to stay on an elimination diet her entire breastfeeding journey, Dr. Evans says the good news is that many babies outgrow their food allergies by their first birthday. A child’s pediatrician can advise when the time is right for reintroducing the allergen back into both the child’s and mother’s diet.