Breastfeeding and Allergies

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Some babies are allergic to the food that their mothers take. This is very rare.

Some babies may be sensitive to certain foods like milk and dairy products. These babies may not be allergic to their mother’s milk but may be allergic to the proteins that she passes in the breast milk after consumption of dairy products like cheese etc.

Milk allergy is commonly associated with allergies to eggs and/or peanuts as well.

Symptoms and warning signs of an allergy

Some of the symptoms or warning signs that indicate a possibility of an allergy in the baby due to some foods in the mother’s diet include:-

  • Change in appearance and consistency of the stools. There may be an unexplained diarrhea, vomiting, green stools, stools with mucus etc.
  • Due to the acidic nature of stools these babies may develop redness around their anus and nappy rash.
  • After feeding there may be excessive bloating of the abdomen. This is also explained by excessive crying, refusal to be consoled, fussiness and irritability. There may be sudden waking at night from deep sleep accompanied by loud cries. The baby usually pulls up the knees over the abdomen and cry.
  • Some babies allergic to certain proteins present in their mother’s foods may also develop skin reactions to allergies like rashes, eczema, dry skin, hives etc.
  • Severe cases of allergies may precipitate life-threatening breathlessness, wheezing and cough. This could be an indication of an anaphylactic shock. This is a very rare and severe form of allergy that leads to sudden fall in blood pressure and edema or swelling of the larynx (voice box) that obstructs breathing. This is an emergency that needs to be treated immediately to prevent death. Anaphylactic shock may occur within minutes or within 4 to 24 hours after the mother consumes the offending food.
  • In case of food allergy of a lower degree there may be failure to thrive, malnutrition and lack of adequate weight gain.

Galactosemia

Some babies may be born with a condition that means they have deficiency of an enzyme called lactase. This condition is called galactosemia.

These babies cannot break down lactose and galactose sugars to simpler sugars to be able to absorb them. These babies may develop diarrhea, vomiting, malnutrition, liver disease and mental retardation while on breast or animal milk.

These babies may be fed with soy milk or special galactose free infant formula feeds.

Milk allergy

When a baby has milk allergy the mother is advised to completely avoid milk and milk products. The mother may be advised to take Calcium supplements along with a completely milk-free diet. Protein, Vitamin A and other minerals also need to be supplemented in the breast feeding mother’s diet.

After the baby is 6 months of age, a skin allergy test with soy protein is performed. If the baby is found to be non-allergic to soy protein, soy milk can be introduced slowly. If soy protein is not tolerated calcium-fortified rice drink can be advised as an alternative after six months of age.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2013

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