The joys and sorrows of a stay-at-home mom, wife, home economist and woman.

Food Allergies and Babies: Part 1, Or What Is An Allergy Or Intolerance?

Who would ever think this little guy could give us so much trouble!

It seems like more and more babies are showing signs of food allergies early in life. For many, the problem is a simple milk protein allergy, easily eliminated from mom’s diet to allow for the baby to continue nursing and thrive. For others, like my own two precious children, it is a much bigger package to unwrap. In the past 2+ years, I have learned a lot about food allergies, and I have been blessed to help encourage and guide moms who are going through some of the same things with their own children.

When addressing the whole question of food allergies, you are looking at 4 possible areas/reactions. Type 1 and 3 are most likely, so we’ll concentrate on those. It is possible to have more than 1 type of reaction. In addition, your child may not have an actual allergy, but an intolerance. My thought is, it doesn’t really matter which it is, if your baby is hurting!

Type 1 is an IgE- mediated reaction and is what we think of when we think of food allergies. This is a histamine regulated reaction, usually to proteins in foods, and is usually pretty immediate. (i.e. diarrhea, skin rashes, swelling, wheezing, hives, anaphylaxis, etc.) The great thing about IgE allergies is that there is some testing that may help diagnose them (although this is not often the case in infants and young children), such as skin prick and blood tests. Only about 5% of the population have Type 1 allergies, although they do present more commonly in young children. If you have a Type 1 allergy, you are generally stuck with it for life.

Type 3 allergies, or delayed-onset allergies, are IgG mediated, and involve the immune system. With exposure to a food over time, your body creates IgG antibodies to the proteins in the food, which attach themselves to the food proteins when ingested. Basically, you have been fine eating a food, and then your body reaches critical mass, and you all of a sudden have an allergic reaction to a previous safe food. IgG reactions can occur anywhere from several hours to several days after a food has been eaten (usually within 25-48 hours), making them much harder to figure out. Type 3 allergies can sometimes be reversed with a strict elimination diet. Type 3 allergies are frequently the culprit behind chronic diseases, because many people don’t diagnose them and inflammation is uncontrolled. IgG allergies can sometimes be diagnosed with a simple bloodtest called the ELISA, through an allergy elimination diet, or doing food trials.

Food intolerances is a digestive system response as opposed to the immune system response we saw with food allergies. It occurs when a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or breakdown the food. Intolerance to lactose (found in cow’s milk) or wheat/gluten is the most common food intolerances.

It is important to note that food allergies tend to run in families. If both parents have food allergies, the child has about a 75% chance of being allergic. If only one parent or near relative is allergic, the odds are 30-40%. If you don’t have a family history of allergies, your odds are about 15%. In our case, I have severe allergies to dairy, egg, soy, seeds and seed oils, some berries, and now white potatoes. Benjamin is gluten and likely lactose intolerant, and Nana (Benjamin’s Mom) has a list of allergies too long to list. My poor kids didn’t stand a chance! There is some research that suggests that if you have an allergic child, you may be able to prevent or delay the onset of the same allergy in subsequent children if you avoid those foods during pregnancy.

How can I tell if my baby has a food allergy or intolerance?

If a breastfed baby is sensitive to a particular food, then he may be fussy after feedings, cry inconsolably for long periods, or sleep little and wake suddenly with obvious discomfort. Other signs of a food allergy may include: rash, hives, eczema, sore bottom, dry skin; wheezing or asthma; congestion or cold-like symptoms; red, itchy eyes; ear infections; irritability, fussiness, colic; intestinal upsets, vomiting, constipation and/or diarrhea, or green stools with mucus or blood. Source

In our case, our son, Jonathan, was a very colicky baby who was often in pain, even refusing to nurse unless asleep. He had hives the day he was born, and every day until we figured out and eliminated the allergens from my diet. He had green, mucousy stools, that often smelled yeasty or sour, frequent diaper rash, a target rash around his anus and eczema. Aurora’s reactions have been less severe, but still noticeable. She has very irritable periods, some hives and eczema, mucousy stools, spit up, and the target rash.

What foods should I watch out for?

Every food contains potentially allergenic proteins, but some are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than others. In general, the top eight foods that are more frequent causes of allergy are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, eggs, milk, wheat, and soy. Children under the age of 5 are more vulnerable to the development of food allergies because of their immature immune and digestive systems. Cow’s milk proteins, egg proteins (especially ovalbumin), and peanuts are the most common foods causing type I hypersensitivity in children. Although there are many more food allergens, the top eight account for approximately 90% of food allergies.Source

In addition to the top 8, you might suspect: any food that a family member is allergic to, a food that mom recently ate a large amount of, a new food (if baby’s symptoms are new), a food that mom doesn’t like, but is eating while breastfeeding (and/or ate while pregnant) for the benefit of her baby, a food that mom craves, or feels she has to have after a bad day.

How do I figure out what my baby is allergic to?
The best way to diagnose an infant’s food allergies/sensitivities is through elimination of the suspected food from mom’s diet. Skin prick and blood tests can be done on infants, but are rarely conclusive at this age. The majority of babies who present with food allergies while being exclusively breastfed have a simple cows milk protein allergy, so that is a good place to start. Egg,soy, and wheat allergies often present as well, so if cow’s milk alone isn’t the problem, these are the next most likely suspects. Unfortunately, it can take several weeks to see a significant improvement once a food is eliminated, although some babies do improve significantly within a few days. In lieu of (or in addition to) eliminating the suspected allergens, it is a good idea to keep a detailed food journal, and record any symptoms or responses your baby has.

Aurora is following in big brother’s footsteps.

Because we are dealing with so many allergies in my children, I elected to do an Allergy Elimination Diet. I removed all foods except for a handful that are usually non-reactive for several weeks, and then slowly (1 food a week on average) added new foods back in to my diet. It is a very difficult thing to do, and requires a lot of determination, will power and support. It can be very discouraging as well, because you feel like you are basically starving yourself and improvement is so slow. In fact, I have realized that I don’t really notice that things have been getting better until I introduce a food that causes a significant negative reaction. We did do blood testing and skin testing (twice) on Jonathan, but everything was negative.

For the record, we determined that Jonathan was allergic to or intolerant of: all grains and seeds, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, eggs, soy, berries, mushrooms, citrus, pineapple, and tomatoes. Aurora is still a bit of a puzzle, but we believe she is having negative reactions to coconut, sweet potatoes, green beans, white potatoes, asparagus, and okra. As a family, we eat a full Paleo diet, with the autoimmune/GAPS protocol. (Benjamin eats some grains and dairy for lunch.) As hard as this journey has been for us, I am the healthiest I have ever been- I lost 50 pounds in Jonathan’s first year, and feel great.

If you’d like to look back on some of the posts I wrote while we in the midst of first learning about food allergies and trying to help my hurting babies, here you go!
Hurting Hearts
“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy” Ps. 126:5
Where we are now
Two Steps Forward…
Seagull Part 2
How I love this little boy
Allergist Update
Heather to Allergist

In Part 2, I will go into more detail on how you can identify in your baby’s food allergies, specifically looking more in depth at the Allergy Elimination Diet. Part 3 will deal with the common food allergens, and how you can spot them on a label and substitute for them. Part 4 will be a discussion of the Paleo Diet and the GAPS protocol (with a fun discussion on leaky gut). Part 5 will talk about how to introduce solids safely to an allergic baby, and Part 6 will be a compilation of some of my favorite resources that have helped me on this journey. I am open to continuing the series past that, if you have any specific questions.


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