Milk Allergy in Infants

If your baby seems extra fussy, gassy, barfy, snorty or rashy you may wonder, “Can babies be allergic to breastmilk?” The answer? No, the natural breastmilk proteins are so mild that they just don’t provoke allergies in babies. However, here’s the big BUT. Babies can be allergic to foods that you eat…tiny bits of which can sneak into your milk!

How do we know infants don’t get breastmilk allergies? In 1983, Swedish scientists proved that even colicky babies are totally fine with their mom’s milk, however, they can be allergic to proteins that pass through the mom’s intestines into her bloodstream and then into her milk.

And, those foreign invaders can sometimes create major hassles. About 10% of colic caused by a baby food allergy—most often the common allergenic foods, like dairy, soy, citrus, eggs, nuts, etc.—or food sensitivity—like caffeine in coffee, chocolate, ice tea, cola, Chinese herbs or decongestant medicine. (Most colic has nothing to do with the intestines. It’s actually an imbalance of too much chaos and too much quiet and  too little rhythmic stimulation. That’s why fussy babies can often be soothed by the 5 S’s.)

Milk Allergy Symptoms in Babies

Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system as it tries to protect us from foreign proteins. In older kids and adults, the fight between your body and say, cat dander or pollen, takes place “up high,” causing a runny nose or sneezing. But with infants, the allergy battleground is in the intestines. Here are the most common symptoms of milk allergies in infants.

  • A lot of spitting up
  • Vomiting
  • Signs of abdominal pain (crying and grunting)
  • Slimy diarrhea or blood in stools
  • Hives
  • Eczema (itchy red rash inside knees, elbows, neck) Scaly skin rash
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Watery eyes, runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Swelling (especially of the lips, tongue or  throat)

Diagnosing Breastfeeding Allergies

Within 30 minutes of a mom eating a meal, tiny bits of proteins make it all the way from her belly to her breast…and can hang out in there for hours. As mentioned, the most common food allergies babies fall prey to are cow’s milk and soy, and much less common are eggs, nuts, citrus, wheat and shellfish. (The exact same things that cause allergies in big people.) Your doctor may recommend you go a week without consuming these foods (AKA an “elimination diet”…AKA chicken and water…ugh!) to see if the symptoms improve, which usually takes 3-7 days to notice. And then, if things do get better, your health care provider will likely have you do a food challenge, to see if the symptoms come back, which usually happens in just 1-2 days.

 If you have concerns about your baby possibly having allergies (from fussing to huge spit ups to stringy, red tinged mucous in the poop), make sure you discuss that with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

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