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My Baby Has Food Allergies: Can I Still Breastfeed?

August 7, 2012

We’ve discussed the challenges of breastfeeding on this blog in the past, and we’ve shared some tips and resources that can help new moms continue breastfeeding, even when things get tough! Breastfeeding an infant with food allergies comes with its own set of trials; when your little one has an allergy to something like dairy, soy, or eggs, you’ll need to watch your own diet for the sake of your baby’s health.

The most common newborn and infant food allergies are to dairy, eggs, soy, corn, wheat, and nuts. And when you’re eating these very common foods and breastfeeding your new baby, you’re passing on these allergens through your breast milk. In babies, symptoms of allergic reactions can vary. Look out for gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, gas, or blood in the stool. The latter is usually the easiest sign to recognize, as the other symptoms can often mimic typical infant behavior. Babies can also present with a rash or hives on the skin.

When you notice these symptoms occurring, take your baby to the pediatrician to rule out other causes and to get recommendations on how to continue breastfeeding while preventing allergic reactions. The most commonly recommended way to care for your baby’s food allergies is to put yourself on an elimination diet. First, try eliminating one of the most common allergens from your diet, such as dairy. Continue breastfeeding and watch for signs of allergy for two weeks, as it can often take up to two weeks for an allergen to clear your baby’s system. If his symptoms abate within two weeks, you’ve likely found the culprit of his troubles!

If his symptoms don’t go away, add dairy back into your diet, and eliminate another product, such as soy. Continue to eliminate common allergens in this way, one by one, until you’ve discovered what’s causing your baby to feel unwell. Once you’ve determined the cause of the allergy, you can continue breastfeeding confidently, having removed the allergen from your diet.

When eliminating food from your diet, be sure to check labels carefully. Casein and whey are dairy-based allergens that pop up in a variety of food items. And corn products and soy often appear in unlikely places as well. This downloadable, printable information sheet is handy to bring with you when shopping and checking labels: http://www.foodallergy.org/downloads/HTRLsheet.pdf. You may want to keep a journal to record which foods are safe and which to avoid. You’ll also want to document your baby’s symptoms as you eliminate each type of allergen from your diet, to make it easier for you to keep track of where you both are in the elimination process.

Once you’ve gotten into a good routine with your baby and are not noticing signs of allergens, talk to your pediatrician about whether it is recommended to eventually reintroduce certain foods into your diet or your baby’s diet, and, of course, keep track of your baby’s weight and wellbeing from visit to visit. With some careful monitoring and discipline, you can continue to breastfeed a child with allergies successfully.

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