Newborns & Food Allergies – What Are They & How Do Babies Get Them?

As a new mother, you’ve probably heard that “breast is best” and when it comes to preventing food allergies in your new baby, this is especially so. Though allergies have been on the rise with children (1 out of 5 will usually develop an allergy by the age of 20), it has been shown that those children who were breastfed are less likely to develop allergies.

Babies tend to develop and allergy to those foods which they try first. Since a breastfeed infant is receiving trace amounts of what the mother eats, the likelihood of that baby developing an allergic reaction to solid foods diminishes.  However, every baby is different–for example, if a mother eats peanuts and then nurses, the baby could, in extreme cases, go into anaphylactic shock.

It’s important to keep in mind that having an allergic reaction to food and having an irritant due to the food are two separate things. An irritant will cause a temporary reaction, while an allergen (a substance which causes an allergic reaction) will be more severe and longer lasting. For instance, a child may be fussy due to gas which was a result of the mother eating broccoli. This would be considered an irritant, not an allergen. The most common irritants are chocolate, cruciferous vegetables, onions and bell peppers. However, foods that babies can have an allergic reaction to are cow’s milk, soy, wheat, corn, shellfish, citrus fruits, eggs and peanuts. Also be wary in trying foods that other family members are allergic to, as the likelihood that the baby will be allergic to it as well is increased.

When trying to see if a baby is sensitive to a certain food, a mother must keep in mind that fussiness caused by food is different from normal baby fussiness. If it’s a reaction to food, then the baby will be irritable directly after feedings. They may cry non-stop for long periods of time, sleep very little, or, when they do go to sleep, wake and seem very uncomfortable. Other allergy signs are:

  • rash
  • hives
  • eczema
  • wheezing
  • congestion
  • red, itchy eyes
  • ear infections
  • irritability
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • green stools with mucus or blood

Reactions to food can be seen immediately and up to 24 hours after ingesting it.

If a mother thinks a food may be causing irritability or an allergic reaction, then the best thing to do is to keep a food diary. She should keep track of everything she eats, and then eliminate foods one by one to see if the reaction is diminished. After a bit of time passes after the food is eliminated, she can reintroduce it to see if it causes a reaction once more.

A baby will be more likely to have allergies if his/her parents have them. If both mom and dad are allergic, then their baby has an 80% chance of having an allergy. If only one parent is allergic, that number is reduced to 30%. And, one last word of encouragement–most babies will outgrow their allergies. So, if your baby has an allergic reaction to food, don’t despair, it could just be for the short-term.