Food Allergy In Babies

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If you have been told that your breastfed infant has food allergies, you may be wondering what to do next. Will you be able to continue to breastfeed? You may be surprised to learn that in most cases, the answer is yes.

Even a baby who has never been formula fed, and has never had any food besides breast milk may show signs of food allergy including: diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, colic, eczema, constipation and poor growth. Babies can develop allergies to foods that you are eating while you are breastfeeding.

Proteins from the foods that you eat can appear in your milk within 3-6 hours after eating them. If you eliminate these foods from your diet, the proteins will disappear from your breast milk in 1-2 weeks and the baby’s symptoms should slowly improve. There are no recommendations to avoid any food while you are breastfeeding to prevent allergies. These restrictions are only recommended for breastfed babies who have developed symptoms.

 What are food allergies in a baby?

A food allergy is essentially an overreaction of the body to food. “All allergies are a sensitivity to something in the environment. When the body is exposed to the allergen — in this case, a certain food — it releases an antibody called IgE, which causes the reactions we associate with allergies (hives, itching, difficulty breathing).

“In very young children, less than a year of age, the most common type of allergy is food allergy. That’s because kids experience the world mouth-first. If they’re going to develop sensitivity to anything, it will probably be first introduced to the body through their mouth. This is also the time when baby’s sampling all kinds of new foods.

Some children seem more prone to allergies than others. I have found that babies who have eczema are more likely to develop food allergies — and that kids with food allergies are more likely to develop environmental allergies and asthma.

What are the symptoms of food allergies in babies?

Hives, itching, lip/tongue/facial swelling, vomiting and diarrhea, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are all symptoms of food allergy when they occur soon after eating a specific food. That’s why we advise that parents introduce new foods one by one — so if baby does have an allergic reaction to a food, you can pinpoint which one caused it. Allergic reactions tend to happen at the first exposure to a new food, because the body needs to sort of “meet” the new food and develop antibodies to it. So feed your baby any new food over a period of a few days and observe her carefully. If she hasn’t had a reaction after three days or so of the new food, she’s probably A-OK.

The top eight most allergenic foods are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, so be especially careful and observant when introducing any of those foods.

Are there any tests for food allergies in babies?

“To diagnose an allergy, we have to find the presence of IgE specific to the triggering allergen. That can be done with an allergy skin test, a blood test or an older type of allergy testing called an intradermal skin test.
If you suspect baby has a food allergy, consult her pediatrician. He’ll want you to describe baby’s reaction and likely will ask about your/her medical and family history (a family history of allergy increases the risk of food allergies, as does a past history of eczema). If he thinks baby could have a food allergy, he may refer her to a pediatric allergist for allergy testing. Skin-prick testing is the most common form of allergy testing in young kids; if baby develops hives when a small amount of allergic substance is “pricked” onto her skin, she’s probably allergic to that substance.

How did my baby get food allergies?

No one quite knows why some kids develop food allergies and others don’t, although researchers suspect a genetic link, since some families seem much more prone to allergies than others.

What’s the best way to treat food allergies in babies?

Cut the trigger food out of baby’s diet. If she’s allergic to wheat, stick to oat, rice or barley cereal. (Gluten-free foods are a good option for older kids who are allergic to wheat.)

Some kids are deathly allergic to certain foods — exposure can cause a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, which can lead to shock and death. If your child has ever developed shortness of breath or wheezing after ingesting a certain food, your doctor may recommend that you carry an EpiPen, which is a needle used to quickly deliver an injection of epinephrine. Epinephrine can reverse anaphylaxis.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting food allergies?

Doctors used to advise waiting until certain ages (often after age one, depending on the food) to introduce the most commonly allergenic foods, but there’s no solid evidence that this approach works to prevent food allergies. In fact, some research actually seems to suggest that introducing small amounts of potentially allergenic food early in a child’s life can prevent an allergy. Talk to your doctor to get the latest information on allergy prevention.

What do other moms do when their babies have food allergies?

“My daughter is allergic to wheat, cow’s and goat’s milk, and peanuts and tree nuts. She’s outgrown a lot, but we’ve been told by the allergist she’ll never outgrow the dairy allergy (it’s a severe allergy, not an intolerance), and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for wheat (I was allergic to it and outgrew it around age three, and actually dairy about the same…).”

“My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. Thus far, my daughter tests negative for all, and she tolerates dairy. We don’t eat eggs, peanuts or tree nuts, so she hasn’t had any exposure yet. Overall, her health is completely different from his, though. She has environmental allergies, eczema and asthma. But my son has none of those as of yet.”

How common are food allergies in babies?

Food allergies are far more common today than they once were. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the prevalence of food allergies in kids under the age of 18 increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. Six percent of kids under age three have a food allergy. The good news: Many kids outgrow their food allergies, especially allergies to cow’s milk, eggs, soy and wheat.

Author: Bibian Okoye

A Retired Chief Nursing Officer, PGDip IHM

2 thoughts on “Food Allergy In Babies”

  1. I found this article very informative! I have a four month old son who I am starting to suspect has an allergy to dairy products, which I intend to discuss with his doctor on our next visit. Reading this today was very promising to me in the respect that now I know how common milk allergies are in young children, and I am now more hopeful that he will eventually grow out of this! Thank you!

    1. Dear Lennae, 

      It is advisable to take your kid to the paediatrician who will check your kid and do the necessary tests to confirm if your what you are suspecting is right or wrong. He will give the corresponding advice following the result of the test.

      Thank you your comment

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