Food Allergies and Breastfeeding
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 common in a baby fed commercial milk formulas), these food particles may be treated as foreign substances by your baby’s white blood cells. The white blood cells attack the food particles 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/donor 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 may 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 the foods you or your baby’s father/donor 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 you may 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 your baby’s system. If you are taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, or giving one to your baby, the baby may be sensitive to the vitamin/mineral, preservatives or coloring in it.
Caffeine, while not an allergen, may cause an irritable, sleepless baby. You may choose to cut down on your intake of coffee, tea and chocolate, and see if this helps.
1 From the WHO International Food Safety Authorities Network (accessed online March 2023).
Published January 2018, minor revisions September 2023