Breastfeeding Moms are bombarded with warnings about what they eat and how it will affect their babies. Is it really as scary and complicated as its made out to be?
Myth: Babies can be allergic to lots of things in their mother’s milk.
Research Shows: True allergies to food traces in the mother’s milk are pretty rare, and sensitivities are generally transient and mild.
Source: Most of this info came from an exhaustive search on the NIH site. I was most surprised by the info I did NOT turn up. I did not turn up tons of studies showing babies having severe allergic reactions due to something their mothers ate. The few cases are scary, of course - but they are few.
Definition of an allergy: An allergy causes an exaggerated immune system reaction.
An immune system reaction is not "a little cranky" or "a little gassy" - those are not signs of an actual allergy. The most common symptom of a genuine immune system reaction in children is a skin rash.
It’s important to differentiate between actual medically defined allergies versus intolerances or sensitivities. Allergies can be severe or even life threatening, although it's doubtful such a severe allergen would be found in breastmilk. A simple intolerance or sensitivity is really nothing to worry about. Most kids get past them.
The best thing to remember is that not many actual allergens can make it through into breastmilk. The breasts are an extremely well-designed filtration system. A baby that's not on solids yet shouldn't have much to worry about. Spicy food, chocolate, garlic, the occasional beer - there is no evidence that any of these things in the mom's diet will be bad for the baby.
National Institute of Health Allergy Info: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001820/
LLL article by MD about lactose intolerance and allergies: http://www.llli.org/ba/nov98.html
Cow’s Milk Allergy
There is a difference between a cow’s milk allergy, which is an actual allergy to a protein in cow’s milk, and lactose intolerance. Cow’s milk allergies are more common in children and are usually outgrown, where lactose intolerance is usually of adult onset and can worsen with age and exposure.
Good scientific article on lactose & milk issues: http://kellymom.com/health/baby-health/lactose-intolerance/
Very complete article on allergy & sensitivity: http://kellymom.com/health/baby-health/food-sensitivity/
A few articles on food allergies from Womb to Toddlerhood:
Doctors do not generally recommend that mothers avoid foods during pregnancy to reduce the risk of allergies:
Babycenter.com’s medical-review-board-approved article emphasizes that for generalized symptoms like fussiness, the breastfeeding mother’s diet is not the most likely culprit:
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently (2008) revised its suggestion that parents avoid introducing common food allergens in the first few years of like. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology indicates that early minimal exposure may actually help to prevent food allergies later in life:
It’s hard to get a real numerical estimate of the occurrence of true food allergies, including cow’s milk protein allergies, in breastfed babies. Estimates of 1-3% have come from some sources, obviously with a higher incidence in families that already have food allergies. Such a low percentage would suggest food allergies aren’t something most nursing moms need to obsess about. As far as other, milder sensitivities; many mothers will swear their child has them and some mothers never trouble with them at all. How to deal with milder food sensitivities in breastfed babies can probably safely be left up to each Mom’s discretion – it all depends on her tolerance for detective work and dietary changes and the severity or frequency of the baby’s reactions. Good luck, and don't panic!