Variety is the spice of life and that goes for breastfed babies too. Your milk changes as your baby grows, if either of you is sick and takes on the flavors of the foods you eat. The changing flavor of your milk can help your baby accept different tastes later and reduce your chances of having a picky eater later on. So sharing your foods with your baby through your milk is a good thing right? Maybe, but there is more to the story.
Besides the flavors, other parts of the food you eat become part of your milk. Proteins, sugars and fats are absorbed by your small intestine and enter your bloodstream to be used by your milk producing cells, or lactocytes. In rare cases, your baby may be sensitive or allergic to the parts of your food that transfer into your milk.
Most babies, except the lucky few, have fussy times. Your baby may have periods of time when he seems inconsolable – if your diet hasn’t changed and the fussiness doesn’t follow meals it’s probably not related to your diet. Instead, think growth spurt, teething or who knows? If you notice any other signs of allergy like: rash, hives, eczema, sore bottom, dry skin; wheezing or asthma; congestion or cold-like symptoms; red, itchy eyes; ear infections; irritability, fussiness, colic; intestinal upsets, vomiting, constipation and/or diarrhea, or green stools with mucus or blood, an allergic reaction may be the cause.
If your baby shows any of these symptoms and you have eliminated other potential allergens, your diet may hold the answer.The most likely food suspects are cow’s milk products, soy, wheat, corn, eggs, and peanuts.If you have a family history of allergic reaction to a certain food, it might be a problem for your baby too.
Symptoms can appear 4-24 hours after exposure to the new food. The symptoms can last for 2-4 hours then subside, except if your baby is allergic to a food you eat frequently. In that case the symptoms can persist. For example, if your baby is sensitive to dairy and you have creamer in your coffee, cheese on your salad and ice cream for dessert, your baby will be getting a steady diet of cow milk proteins and show allergy symptoms all the time.
To confirm your baby is sensitive to something you are eating, cut it from your diet for 2-3 weeks to see if your baby stops showing signs of a reaction. If the reaction symptoms stop, you may want to continue avoiding the food while breastfeeding. The 2-3 week time period matters since many foods, like cow’s milk protein, can stay in your body for 1½ – 2 weeks, and another 1½ – 2 weeks in your baby. Some moms find it helpful to keep a food journal to track symptoms and be sure to cut one food at a time to correctly identify the offender. Usually, you will notice improvement in 5-7 days although your baby may take weeks to completely get rid of all the allergy symptoms, especially if the food is one you eat frequently.
If you are eating the problem food frequently, your baby may seem to feel worse for about a week before symptoms begin to improve. You may begin to eat small amounts of the troublesome food when your baby is 9-12 months old or 6 months after you stopped exposure. If baby is only a little sensitive to a particular food, you may be able to cut back, instead of eliminating the food altogether. The exception is if your baby had breathing problems or bloody stool after exposure, talk to your pediatrician before reintroducing the problem food.
Sensitivities and allergies are rare, but they do occur. Watch for the symptoms and take the steps to identify and eliminate the offending food to help your baby, and your family, be healthy, happy and more comfortable.