My Family Has Food Allergies. How Does This Affect Breastfeeding?
Substances in your breast milk coat your baby's intestines, which prevents microscopic food particles from "leaking" through into your baby's bloodstream. When they do pass into the blood (something that is more frequent in an artificially fed baby), these food particles may be treated as foreign substances by his white blood cells, which attack them, and can cause painfully unhealthy allergic reactions, such as diarrhea, sore bottoms, runny noses and eyes, rashes and eczema, or a crying, sleepless baby.
If you have allergies on either side of the family, it is beneficial to avoid the foods you or the baby's father are sensitive to, while your baby is quite young. It is also helpful to breastfeed frequently. If you have a problem with dairy, for instance, proteins from cow's milk present in your own milk can cause problems for your baby. But there's a good chance your baby will not be sensitive to these foods, later in life, if the baby is breastfed. This is because breastfeeding lessens the baby's chance of becoming sensitized to the allergen.
Common allergens include dairy, wheat, citrus, corn, nuts and shellfish. Try cutting these out of your diet, one at a time, and see if your baby's health improves. It may take up to ten days for it to clear from his/her system. If you are taking a vitamin/mineral supplement, or giving one to your baby, the baby may be sensitive to the iron, preservatives or coloring in it. Vitamin/fluoride supplements are no longer recommended for babies under six months. (See our FAQ on vitamin/fluoride supplementation.)
Caffeine, while not an allergen, may cause a cranky, sleepless baby. Cut down on your intake of coffee, tea and chocolate, and see if this helps.
Recommended reading: THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING (available through the LLL store, or your local LLL Group), and our resource page on Breastfeeding and Allergies.
Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.