How Allergies and Breast Milk Are Related

Breast milk is comprised with all the nutrients your baby needs. In addition to having the levels of protein, sugars, and fats that your baby requires, breast milk also plays an incredible role in growing and strengthening your baby's immune system. Breast milk contains antibodies that can fight germs and may even prevent colds from forming (even if mom is sick with a cold!).

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7 Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfed babies also tend to become sick much less often than their formula-fed counterparts, including less vomiting, diarrhea, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and more. It is argued that formula does not have the same effect on the immune system, but steps can be taken to provide the proper immune building nutrients to the formula-fed baby.

The antibodies in human breast milk are amazing. Even more spectacular is that a baby's saliva communicates with the mother and can change the composition of breast milk based on the baby's specific needs. Breast milk helps the gut by establishing a healthy balance of bacteria, which in turn strengthens the immune system. It is believed that breastfeeding can work to help prevent or limit the severity of allergies.

Studies have shown that children who were breastfed have fewer allergies into adolescence than those who were formula-fed.

6 Signs of Food Allergies

Some studies indicate that the earlier a food is offered to a baby, the greater the likelihood that the child will develop an allergy. However, other studies find the opposite, and that it is better to introduce foods early, as waiting can increase the chance of a food allergy. So which is right? General consensus is to not introduce solid foods until the baby is at least six months.

Other factors may play a role as well, including the health of your baby, whether he or she is able to sit up, and more. Your best bet is to continue your well-visits with your baby's pediatrician to determine the best route to take when introducing solid foods.

Eating in Threes

When you do decide to give your baby solid foods, you need to be aware of the signs of a food allergy. Most pediatricians recommend giving baby foods in threes -- that is, each time you introduce a new food, give it to your baby for three days in a row before you introduce another new food. If an allergy does exist, this will help determine which food is the culprit. You should never introduce more than one new food at a time.

Food allergy symptoms vary, but can include a number of skin and/or stomach issues. With a typical minor food allergy, the skin symptoms are usually hives or an itchy skin rash. Swelling, wheezing, throat tightness, and breathing problems are also signs, usually of a more severe allergy.

It is more difficult to determine food allergies when there are only stomach symptoms, as many of these symptoms can also indicate food poisoning or an illness, as well. Stomach symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Very severe symptoms can include light-headedness and/or loss of consciousness.

It is important to be aware of the severity of any symptoms that arise after introducing new foods. Difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness requires immediate care, and you should head to the nearest emergency room. Minor symptoms, such as a rash, may only need a follow up with the pediatrician. 

5  Let Baby's Gut Be Ready!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and then continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age while slowly introducing solids. Just because your baby has been born, does not mean he or she is done growing and developing.

Babies have very sensitive stomachs; in fact, the cell lining of a baby's stomach is not equipped to handle any solid foods until at least 4 months of age, when gut enzymes have also started producing to help aid in digestion. Giving an infant solid food before this time can cause serious damage to the stomach and potentially cause allergies to form, especially in babies who have a family history of allergies.

The saying “breast is best” rings true here. There is no way to tell if your baby's insides are capable of handling solids any earlier than six months of age, so if you are able to breastfeed until that time, it is highly recommended you do so. 

4 Cow's Milk and Other Common Allergies

Allergies to cow's milk are the most common among babies. Your breast milk contains proteins that help ward off allergies, including this most common allergy. Studies have estimated that only 0.5% of exclusively breastfed babies have an allergy to cow's milk, compared to formula fed babies who have an increased risk: 2-7% of formula fed babies develop an allergy to cow's milk.

If a breastfed baby is in that minority and has a cow's milk allergy, doctors recommend breastfeeding to continue. The mother should eliminate all sources of cow's milk from her diet while taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement. It is equally important that one understands the difference between a milk allergy and a milk intolerance. Symptoms are often similar, but not as severe, and may come and go.

Avoiding allergies might begin with your diet.

Other more common food allergies include soy, shellfish, eggs, nuts, and wheat. Again, if a baby is being breastfed and has an allergy to any of these foods, it is important that the mother eliminate these foods from her diet. Try to avoid becoming a Google doctor. Do not diagnose your baby by yourself! Pediatricians deal with parents and babies all day long, and no question or concern is too extreme for them. Play it safe and make an appointment if you truly believe your infant has an allergy.

3 How Fussy Is too Fussy?

Babies get fussy for a variety of reasons. They may need a diaper change, they are hungry, or they want attention. As a mother, you need to tap into your instincts, and if they are telling you that your baby's fussiness is more than just that, seek the help of a medical professional.

Is your baby unusually fussy? Perhaps she or he cannot sleep or nap well and is up often. Your fussy baby may have problems with bowel movements, or they may be very loose or odd colors. Sneezing or wheezing can be a common occurrence. These are all signs of an allergy, or of something else, such as colic or the common cold.

Identifying Allergic Discomfort

All babies are fussy from time to time, but no baby should be fussy all day and all night long. If tactics such as swaddling or walking with your baby do not work, do not hesitate to call the doctor (but do not panic, either!). A pediatrician will ask about your baby's habits, including whether he or she is breastfed.

As stated earlier, sometimes something in your breast milk can be causing an allergy (or in some cases, just a sensitivity) in your baby, most commonly cow's milk and foods containing cow's milk. Keep in mind, though, that foods stay in your system upwards of 24 hours or more, so just because you had a glass of chocolate milk twenty minutes ago, does not necessarily mean that's why your baby is fussy while feeding!

A true allergy will involve much more than just a fussing, crying baby. Other symptoms are likely to be present, and your mother's instincts will undoubtedly kick in.

2 Don't Blame Yourself!

It can be a harsh world out there for moms of babies with allergies. You may find yourself judged by others (“can't believe she didn't know her baby was allergic to cow's milk!!”). Ignore the haters. Your harshest critic is you.

Perhaps you went months cradling your fussy baby, knowing something was not right, but not being able to pinpoint it. Do not beat yourself up for it! The most important thing is that you take the care you need now in changing your diet and habits to help your infant.

Keep Your Healthy Diet and Mindset

Many mothers worry that they caused their baby's allergy by the foods they ate while pregnant. That is likely not the case. Most doctors recommend that pregnant women continue to eat a balanced diet and not to eliminate any foods, with few exceptions.

A healthy diet is the priority, although most “unhealthy” foods can be eaten in moderation. There is no evidence that indicates there is a correlation between a pregnant woman's diet and any allergies her baby may develop, although a relationship between eating peanuts in the third trimester and baby peanut allergies is being explored.

Once your baby has been diagnosed with an allergy, do not feel as if it is the end of the world. It may be overwhelming initially, but with them, you and baby will learn to cope. It is simply about forming new habits and different diets. Do not feel alone either; many mothers cope by joining support groups or using the internet as an outlet to connect with others in a similar situation.

1  It's Not Forever (Most Likely)

Food allergies are usually not a life sentence. It is important to understand exactly what a food allergy entails. Basically, your immune system sees a specific food as being harmful and reacts by causing chemicals to be released into the bloodstream -- an allergic reaction.

Many children may outgrow their food allergies as their digestive systems mature. Eggs and milk allergies are the most common to recover from, and even if one is allergic, they may find they can eat eggs and milk in baked goods, for example.

Food Challenges

You can work with an allergist to continue to determine your child's allergies, or if you believe that an allergy no longer exists, something called a food challenge can be performed. This involves giving the child very small amounts of food, increasing over time, to see if there is a reaction (not recommended if it was a life-threatening allergy).

A link between breastfeeding does exist, both on the positive side (less likely to develop allergies) as well as the negative side (allergic foods can be passed through breast milk). Regardless, do not give up breastfeeding if you are able to continue, and do it for as long as you wish, especially as long as it is recommended. Breastfeeding has so many perks, from warding off allergies to having an incredible bond with your baby. If you are able to breastfeed, do it!

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