Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there’s a history of eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergies in the family. If your baby has a family history of these conditions, breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months will help to lower their risk.
Substances in human milk coat your baby’s intestines, which prevents microscopic food particles from “leaking” through into your baby’s bloodstream. If 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 painful 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 may be beneficial to avoid the foods you or your baby’s father are sensitive to, while you are breastfeeding. 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.
Breastfeeding lessens a baby’s chance of becoming sensitized to an allergen. This means there’s a good chance your baby will not be sensitive to these foods you or your baby’s father are sensitive to, later in life, if they are breastfed.
Common allergens include dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy1. If you suspect your baby is allergic to something you are eating 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.
Caffeine, while not an allergen, may cause an irritable, sleepless baby. Cut down on your intake of coffee, tea and chocolate, and see if this helps. Read our post on caffeine here.
1 From the WHO International Food Safety Authorities Network (accessed online March 2018).