As crazy as it sounds, it may be true. Breastfeeding mothers may pass what they eat through the breast milk in a form that their baby can’t tolerate. True food allergies are rare, but many children are born with a food intolerance, especially to cow’s milk products. This includes milk-based formula, as well as breast milk from moms who consume dairy.
The terms allergy and intolerance are often used interchangeably. Technically, an allergy causes an immune-system response and an intolerance causes a gastrointestinal response. But as a mother who has been through it three times, I can tell you that my children had symptoms of both. So far, two of my three children have outgrown their allergy/intolerance of dairy.
Tracking down a food or environmental allergy in babies and children can be a frustrating task. The easiest way is to follow the elimination diet and keep a food diary. By eliminating foods that are common allergens, like cow’s milk, soy, nuts, shellfish and eggs, you can slowly introduce one food back in and wait to see if there is a reaction. Babies can also be sensitive to tomato products, citrus and other strongly acidic foods. A baby may continue to have a symptom like diarrhea for a few days after you have eliminated problem foods, simply because the intestinal tract was irritated, and will need a few days to heal.
Be sure to read labels on suspected foods. You may find common ingredients that will lead to the source of an allergy. For instance, casein and caramel food colors usually are made from dairy. Some children are sensitive to food dyes that are named with a color followed by a number.
Common reactions include:
Irregular stools – this can be hard to define in a newborn, because stools vary greatly. If you notice green, mucus or blood in the stool, suspect a problem.
Gas and cramping – most babies get gas, but some really seem to be in pain just before releasing gas.
Fussiness or colic – some babies are labeled as having colic, when they actually are experiencing gastrointestinal distress. Some babies get extremely distressed when you try to lay them down on their back. (This is also true if they have reflux.)
Rash, hives or eczema – many babies have sensitive skin, but if you notice dry, red patches of skin or hives in
addition to some of the other reactions, it could be caused by something they are eating.
Runny nose – this can also happen during teething, so watch for it if you notice other symptoms.
Hyperactivity, sleeplessness – less common in babies, but more common in older children. It can be caused by many different foods, including those that contain artificial dyes.
Vomiting – not to be confused with spitting up, which all babies do to some degree. Vomiting in babies is more projectile, and may really upset or scare the baby.
Wheezing/asthma – can be caused by both food and environmental allergies, such as cleansers, pets, pollen or mold. You could be contributing by using perfumes or scented hair products. Be sure to discuss with a doctor immediately if you suspect asthma.
Severe inability to gain weight – this one is serious, and should immediately be discussed with a doctor. A small part of the population has an allergy to wheat products, which can cause serious health problems.
All children are unique, so discuss any symptoms and the results of your findings with a doctor. These are just some of the reactions I encountered (as a mother, not a doctor!) while tracking allergies in my three children. To keep an organized journal, I developed the Baby Love Carebook, which includes allergy tracking worksheets. The complete Carebook is available on www.babylovecarebook.com.