Breastfeeding and allergies. What’s the deal?
Last week my old friend Sarah and I went out for lunch. She is expecting her first child, and while we were chatting a little bit about this and a little bit of that, she confessed her big concern about what she was supposed to do while she was breastfeeding her baby, given she suffers from asthma and also remembered quite well that she had an egg allergy as a little kid.
Will she have to change her dietary habits? Will she have to avoid foods commonly known to cause allergies, both now during pregnancy and later during breastfeeding? Or will she be able to breastfeed him at all?
Between eating, talking and learning, she got to know about the latest info related to allergy and breastfeeding. She was amazed to find out how things have changed in the last few years! By the end, my friend was feeling much more positive about breastfeeding and confident to do it. So, if you’re having the same dilemmas as my friend, or if it has crossed your mind to not breastfeed your baby for these reasons, I’ll ask you to continue reading, because this info is going to be very helpful for you as well!
The best gift you can offer to your child
Breastfeeding can be very challenging, even so, it’s the best gift you can offer to your child. It has lots of benefits, for both you and your baby. Breast milk contains the right amount of nutrients your baby needs, plus it’s packed with lots of antibodies that help to boost your baby’s own defense system. That means he will be protected against many common diseases newborns usually have during the first year of life.
Proper nutrition of the mother, is just as important while you’re breastfeeding, as it is when you are pregnant. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths and misinformation about how a mother should eat or what she shouldn’t eat in this stage, and it’s very common that mothers feel worried they could be hurting their child due to something they’re eating.
Can my diet or something I eat harm my baby?
Not so long ago, the medical community recommended that mothers should avoid certain foods considered allergic during pregnancy and breastfeeding, to prevent allergies in their babies. However, there's new evidence now and we can almost know for sure that restricting these types of foods isn't likely to reduce your child's risk of allergic disorders. Instead, and what it is more amazing, they’ve discovered that regular consumption of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and wheat during the first months of pregnancy could be beneficial. In fact, they indeed can help prevent allergy and asthma in your children. In the same way, giving your child a diet with great diversity of foods, once they start eating solids at around 6 months of age, may be associated with the same benefits. This includes these allergic foods (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs etc), before they reach 12 months of age.
So, at this time, it’s out of place to advise women not to eat specific foods during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as they are not going to make any difference in whether their child develops allergies or not. And what's more, such a wrong recommendation may negatively affect the mother or the baby's nutritional status by cutting out some of these important nutritious foods.
Your son showed signs of food allergy. What should you do next?
But, what if your son, despite being exclusively breastfed, is having symptoms of food allergy? Will you be able to continue nursing your baby?
As surprising as it sounds, YES! In most of the cases you’ll be able to continue with breastfeeding.
Some breastfed babies can start developing an adverse reaction to the foods their mother is regularly eating. This is because proteins in the foods you eat, can pass through your breastmilk shortly after eating them.
If you see signs like bloody or green frothy stools, vomiting, diarrhoea, eczema, or your pediatrician tells you that your son is having poor growth, these could be symptoms of a food allergy. In this case you should seek advice from an allergy specialist and dietitian first. Then, you will know for sure that it’s an allergy case, as well as any changes you should make in your diet and for how long.
Adjusting the mother’s diet
In most of the cases it's enough to just remove cow’s milk and dairy products from the mother’s diet. Watch out though, because dairy products are not limited only to milk, cheese and yogurt. Lots of products can have milk proteins in their ingredients, so it’s important that you start reading food labels and check out the list of ingredients of the foods you're going to eat during breastfeeding.
If you eliminate these foods from your diet, the baby’s symptoms should slowly improve within 1-2 weeks. But if your son is not showing signs of improvement and on the contrary is getting worse, you may need to eliminate other foods such as eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts or nuts, and probably follow this diet for as long as the allergist or dietitian recommends, depending on the symptom resolution your child shows.
Since you need to restrict an entire food group, it’s important to look for other alternatives so you can get the protein and calcium you need. You should discuss with a dietitian if you need to continue taking a pregnancy/breastfeeding multivitamin and whether other supplements such as calcium are required. And be sure to get enough protein in your diet by eating the right amounts of fish, beef, chicken, and lentils/beans.
Remember! These are recommendations only if your baby develops an allergy while you’re breastfeeding them.
A final word
To sum up, it’s recommended that mothers follow a normal diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, in both cases good nutrition is extremely important. Be sure to eat a balanced, nutritious diet that provides all the elements necessary for a mother and a growing child.
As they say, informed is best (NOT fed is best) according to most nutritionists, but you still must be cautious and watch for the signs of possible allergies to keep your child healthy and happy.
* Maternal dietary antigen avoidance during pregnancy or lactation, or both, for preventing or treating atopic disease in the child. Kramer MS, Kakuma R. Evid Based Child Health. 2014 Jun;9(2):447-83. doi: 10.1002/ebch.1972.
* Peanut, milk, and wheat intake during pregnancy is associated with reduced allergy and asthma in children. Bunyavanich S. Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 May; 133(5): 1373–1382.
* Effects of early nutritional interventions on the development of atopic disease in infants and children: the role of maternal dietary restriction, breastfeeding, timing of introduction of complementary foods, and hydrolyzed formulas. Pediatrics. 2008 Jan;121(1):183-91. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-3022.