I will be concentrating on the subject of breastfeeding this month. This month mark 3 years that I have been nursing one of my children. It is something very important to me. Although, these posts are not meant to bash or put down any mother who wasn’t able to breast feed as long as she would liked or just chose not to breast feed, I will be stressing the importance of breastfeeding. I believe there can never be too much information out there on the subject. One aspect that has been part of my breastfeeding journey is food allergies. I personally know a few moms who dealt with food allergies in a nursing child and have also heard of MANY moms going through it. There seems to be much misinformation on the subject and I would like to share my story and opinion on the matter.
My first child was born in January of 2011. Luckily, I was able to exclusively breastfeed him until he started solids. During his 3rd month of life, we noticed he was getting red rashes on his cheeks and behind the folds in his knees and creases of his elbows. Of course, being a first time mom, I made sure to bring it up to his pediatrician at the time. The doctor assured me it was normal and that many infants get this “baby eczema” and that it would go away over time. I trusted our pediatrician and didn’t think anything of it. This was until it started getting much worse! It was at the point, people would ask me what is wrong with his face since the rashes were so noticeable and raw, red. At another appointment, I brought it up to his doctor again. I was told I could use hydrocortisone cream on it and it would help clear it up. Even though I wasn’t as “natural” as I am now, I still looked for the most natural form of this cream, knowing it is a steroid. We went with the Aveeno brand of it and started using it. It did help in reducing it but it never went away. I knew this wasn’t normal but still trusted my doctor that it would one day clear up.
By the time, he was 10 months, we started introducing more solids and noticed that EVERYTHING we would feed to him, he would break out in hives and get itchy around his mouth, neck, hands…basically anywhere that touched the food. This scared me as I knew it was some sort of allergic reaction. We immediately put solids on hold and this time I demanded that his pediatrician give me a referral to a pediatric allergist. I was scared to feed my child and this was not okay. Right before his first birthday, we got an appointment with an allergist. We explained everything we had been going through and he confirmed my gut instincts in that the eczema was NOT normal. He said that it is most likely food allergies and that since I was nursing, the eczema was caused by me eating what he was allergic to and him getting it through my milk causing the reaction. We were able to do skin testing since he was almost a year old and we didn’t know how many things he would be allergic too considering it seemed he was reacting to everything. We were able to confirm all dairy, all egg, avocado and strawberries. We were told to avoid them in everything and if I wanted to continue nursing, that I would have to cut it out of my diet.
This was a lot to take in. I went home and found that dairy and egg is seriously in EVERYTHING! …well almost. Right away, I quit eating dairy and eggs and we noticed his eczema started clearing up within a week of me removing these things from my diet. It was a huge adjustment but well worth it if I could continue giving my child the best nutrition. I felt guilty that I didn’t try harder and that essentially it was my milk making my child feel bad. It not only explained his eczema but also his issues with sleeping (we had to make sure he was at an incline because he would spit up a lot), his gassiness and just overall fussiness as a baby.
Today he is almost 3 1/2 years old. We do see an allergist regularly, we left his previous pediatrician due to his lack of concern and other issues. Shayne has been diagnosed as asthmatic this year on top of his food allergies. He has outgrown 2 of his 4 allergies but is still VERY allergic (however, not anaphylactic) to all dairy and all eggs. We do have an epi- pen with us at ALL times now and keep one in the house. His eczema has cleared up 100% without any medications or steroid creams. We are very diligent in watching what he eats and we typically prepare and bring food for him everywhere we go to be safe. He is a happy, healthy, normal 3 year old. To him, this is normal.
I wanted to tell our story because I have also heard many moms be told they MUST stop nursing and feed either soy or anti-allergen formula when they experience food allergies in their nursing babies. In most cases, doing food elimination, if baby is younger or allergy testing when baby is older (like we did) will help you avoid having to quit nursing. I understand some mothers have kids who have an endless list of food allergies and an anti-allergen formula may be easier. Of course that is something each individual family would have to weigh the pros and cons and decide on their own. With us though, me avoiding the foods was the natural answer. I knew breastfeeding was best for my child and me cutting those foods out of my diet was easy (and still cheaper) than buying a hypoallergenic formula. Plus, I knew this way he could continue getting the added benefits past infancy from nursing which I figured he needed considering everything his body went through most of his first year.
Signs of Possible Food Allergies in a Breast Fed Baby
Symptoms typically show up within 4-24 hours of exposure in breast fed babies:
- fussiness after nursing
- inconsolable crying and issues sleeping
- stool with blood or mucous
- hives or other skin rashes
- ear infections
- dry skin
- wheezing or asthma
- constipation or diarrhea
- gas, stomach upset
- vomiting or a lot of spitting up
Most common food allergies are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy and corn.
If you suspect your baby has a food allergy, it is typically recommended to start with dairy, as that is most commonly the culprit. The mother should eliminate that food from her diet for a minimum of 3 weeks or more as many allergens can stay in your system for a week or longer after eliminating it. If you notice an improvement in baby’s symptoms after removing a certain food, it is most likely a culprit. If no improvement, then it may be time to eliminate another food. Some mom’s will eliminate all of the main common allergens and after a month or so, start reintroducing one at a time over the course of a couple weeks per allergen and once symptoms pop back up, they can pin point which one is the culprit. Depending on the severity of symptoms, the mother may be able to just limit the amount she eats of that allergen instead of completely eliminating it.
Many people confuse dairy allergy with being lactose intolerant. They are two different things. Having a dairy allergy is when the individual is allergic to the protein in cow’s milk. This is why many who are allergic to dairy can also be sensitive to beef. Many will also be sensitive to goat’s milk as the proteins are similar. Many will also react to soy. Being lactose intolerant is when the person’s body has a slower time in breaking down the sugar, lactose. Switching to a lactose free diet, will not help a person who has a dairy allergy. The good thing, is many children outgrow their dairy allergy by 6-18 months and most will by 3 years of age.
Preventing Food Allergies
As far as preventing food allergies, there isn’t a sure fire way to do this. Of course genetics and family history play a huge role in whether or not a child will have food allergies. According to AAP guidelines, a mother should not avoid or eliminate any foods during pregnancy or breast feeding. There is very little evidence that delaying solids past 6 months decreases chances of having food allergies. Exclusive breast feeding for the first 4-6 months is recommended and endorsed with continuing to breastfeed until a year or beyond. If formula is to be used, soy is no longer the main recommendation in preventing dairy allergies, like in the past. AAP is recommending hydrolyzed formula be used instead which does contain cow proteins but they are broken down so they are less likely to be allergenic. They are also saying there is no need to delay certain allergenic foods such at dairy, eggs or peanuts but don’t give an outline on how to go about introducing these to at risk or high risk babies.
As always, contact your pediatrician or allergist when seeking medical advice. But just know that having a nursling with food allergies does not mean you must end your breastfeeding journey. Shayne went on to nurse until just before his second birthday, a whole year after we found out about his food allergies. It can be very challenging and was a huge adjustment for me but in the end it paid off and I don’t regret making the changes I did.
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The contents of this blog are my own opinion and experiences. If you are needing advice, always contact a medical professional.
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