Food allergies in babies can cause a panic in many new parents. Whether it is a rash, vomiting a scary diaper or another sign…it can cause alarm.
When a person experiences an immune system response soon after consuming a specific food, they’re believed to have a food allergy or insensitivity. The symptoms and severity of the response often make the difference between having an allergy to a food or being sensitive to the food.
For instance, someone with an allergy to nuts may break out in hives or struggle to breathe due to restricted airways. Someone who is sensitive to dairy may experience mild digestive problems each time they consume cheese. You may tolerate an upset stomach occasionally if you really love cheese, but you’re not likely to take the chance with nuts if it may cause a severe reaction.
It may seem like exclusively breastfed babies are unlikely to experience food allergies, but keep in mind that breast milk contains small amounts of whatever foods the mother consumes. Babies are unique humans, and you don’t know what reactions they may have to various foods in the early months of life. That’s why keeping an eye out for allergic reactions is important for all mothers.
Signs of Allergic Reaction in Babies
Crying and fussiness after feeding are two of the reasons many mothers begin to suspect a food allergy. While babies can cry excessively if they suffer gas, bloating, diarrhea and other digestive problems due to a food present in their mother’s milk, there are other reasons that cause babies to cry and fuss after eating.
For instance, your baby may simply eat too much and feel overly full after eating. Perhaps your baby isn’t latching onto the breast properly and doesn’t feel satisfied after eating. In some cases, acid reflux or GERD can cause spitting up and discomfort that leads to a lot of fussing.
That said, colic-like behavior is a common symptom of food allergies. Your baby may cry for long periods of time due to stomach pain or other symptoms of a strong immune response to a food.
How Do I Know If My Baby Has a Food Allergy?
Some of those symptoms may include:
- Dry skin
- Red eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Excess mucus in the diaper
There are also some secondary symptoms that you may notice in babies with a food allergy. For instance, a baby who routinely has diarrhea may end up with a sore bottom. A baby who vomits regularly after eating may struggle to thrive due to losing too many nutrients and calories.
If your baby has a mild food insensitivity to a food that you often consume, you may notice mild symptoms that are harder to detect. You may not learn about that sensitivity until your baby is older and possibly displays stronger reactions when consuming that food as a solid.
When a baby has a more severe food allergy, the symptoms will display soon after each feeding as long as that food is present in the mother’s breast milk. You may notice that your baby is calm after eating but suddenly wakes up with distressing symptoms or excessive crying and fussing for long periods of time. Other allergic reactions can happen immediately after the food is consumed.
Sudden vs. Ongoing Symptoms of Food Allergies in Babies
Just as the symptoms of a food allergy vary between babies, the severity and frequency of the allergic reaction varies. The following factors will influence how and when your baby reacts to a particular food:
- Severity of the allergy or sensitivity
- Amount of the food consumed by the mother
- Frequency of consumption by the mother
If a mother consumes a small amount of a food, a small amount of that food will make its way into her breast milk. If her baby is sensitive to that food, it may result in a minor allergic reaction or no symptoms at all, depending on the severity of the baby’s sensitivity to the food.
Many severe allergic reactions occur when the mother consumes a food frequently or in large quantities. Consuming large amounts of the food on occasion may lead to a strong allergic reaction in a breastfeeding baby occasionally.
For instance, you may notice that your baby shows signs of allergic reaction every Friday night, which is also pizza night for your family. Perhaps an allergic reaction to the cheese is the culprit.
If your baby is allergic to a food that you consume on a daily or near daily basis, your baby may suffer from allergic symptoms daily. Even a minor food allergy can seem more severe when your baby’s suffering is ongoing. Depending on the allergy and your baby’s symptoms, you may notice long-term symptoms like frequent ear infections, nonstop digestive distress and even a refusal or hesitancy to feed.
Common Foods for Allergic Reactions in Breastfed Babies
Don’t allow the following list to limit your exploration of possible allergies for your baby. All humans have their own quirks, and your baby may have an allergy or sensitivity to a food that most other people can tolerate well. This list represents some of the most common foods that can upset little tummies, but it’s in no way exhaustive.
- Cow’s milk
- Other nuts
Cheese and milk are often the cause of allergic reactions in people of all ages, but keep in mind that any form of dairy can trigger a reaction in a baby. For instance, a baby sensitive or allergic to proteins in cow’s milk may show a strong reaction when you consume ice cream. A baby with a strong dairy allergy may reaction just as strongly to yogurt as they do cheese.
Also keep in mind that many processed and pre-packaged foods contain ingredients that you would never suspect. They may also contain preservatives and other additives that aren’t necessarily foods you would buy in the store to cook a meal. If your baby seems to have a strong reaction when you consume a processed or pre-packaged food, you may need to read the ingredient list to determine which food is causing the reaction.
How Do I Know if My Baby is Allergic to Dairy or Other Foods?
How you react to a possible food allergy in your breastfed baby depends on the severity and strength of the allergic symptoms. If your baby experiences a rash, hives, difficulty breathing or other serious reactions, seek immediate medical attention. A medical professional can help you identify other potential causes for the allergic reaction and may perform allergy tests. It’s best to determine the cause of the severe reaction so that it doesn’t occur in the future.
If you suspect that your baby is displaying more mild symptoms of a food allergy on occasion or experiences ongoing symptoms, you may not need to seek immediate medical attention. Start by keeping a food diary and noting when your baby displays each potential allergy symptom. Look for patterns that may show what reactions your baby is having to specific foods.
For example, you may notice that your baby gets congested and constipated when you consume large amounts of dairy. Perhaps your baby becomes colicky and experiences digestive distress whenever you consume eggs.
If you consume the problem food daily, it may not take long to make the connection between your baby’s symptoms and the food. If you consume the food in large quantities on occasion, it may take some time to make that connection. Of course, your baby’s symptoms should also appear less often since you aren’t consuming that food daily.
When You Identify Food Allergies in Babies, What’s Next?
Once you know what food your baby is sensitive or allergic to, you can limit that food in your diet or eliminate it entirely. If your baby’s reaction to the food seems mild, you may control the allergic symptoms by consuming only small amounts of the food. The less you consume, the less nutrients from that food will appear in your breast milk.
More serious allergic reactions may require you to eliminate a food from your diet entirely. There are alternatives and substitutes for most foods that babies are often allergic to, and the sacrifice is temporary. Once your baby is weaned from the breast, you may go back to enjoying the food in your own diet.
As you adjust your diet to ensure your little one’s comfort and safety, keep in mind that small amounts of certain ingredients are present in many pre-packaged foods. You can’t entirely eliminate a food from your diet without reading the ingredients list for every food that you consume. You may be surprised to find that the food you want to eliminate is present in candy, margarine, sauces and flavorings. The stronger your baby’s allergic reaction to the food, the more time you may spend inspecting your food options to ensure its suitability to your breastfeeding lifestyle.
Most mothers don’t need to stop breastfeeding due to an food allergies in babies. If you need to consume a food that your baby has a strong reaction to, work with a doctor to find alternatives. There’s almost always a compromise so that your body is well-nourished and your baby is free of uncomfortable allergic reactions.