Breast Milk Protein and allergy

Is your child allergic to breast milk? Here is what you should know

It is common knowledge that breast milk is the primary and only source of nutrition for newborns, and is vital for their growth and development. And while babies may not be allergic to their mother’s milk, they may show signs of allergy to a protein that may have been ingested by their mothers as a part of their regular diet. It usually depends on the sensitivity of the baby and the amount of protein consumed by the mother. The symptoms of allergy may appear immediately after exposure or may take 4 to 24 hours to crop up. 

Why does it happen?

The protein which causes the allergy is usually ingested by the mother through her diet and passed on to the baby while breastfeeding. This protein may be harmless for the mother but can cause an allergic reaction in the baby. Foods that are most likely to cause an allergic reaction include dairy products, wheat, corn, eggs, soy, and peanuts. The risk increases if any of the family members are allergic to these products too. This is because the baby will be affected by family history in this case.

Cow’s milk protein in the mother’s diet can often cause the following symptoms of breast milk allergy. Here are some signs to look out for.

  • Babies may experience diarrhoea and vomiting without any specific cause.
  • You may notice redness around the anus, as the stools become more acidic. You may also find a nappy rash.
  • Breast milk protein allergy may cause excessive bloating.
  • The baby may cry inconsolably and be irritable.
  • He or she may not get enough sleep and may wake up suddenly.
  • The baby may develop a skin rash, like eczema or hives, which is a classic symptom of allergy.
  • There may be a change in the colour and consistency of the stools. In some cases, the baby may pass bloody stools.
  • Breast milk protein allergy may cause serious symptoms like breathlessness, wheezing, and cough too.
  • Your little one may experience severe colic and abdominal discomfort.

The science behind breast milk allergy

The foods consumed by babies are usually broken down into simple sugars, to facilitate easy digestion and absorption. However, some babies may be deficient in an enzyme called lactase, which is essential to break down lactose and galactose into simple sugars. These babies are generally born with a condition called galactosemia, and may develop symptoms like diarrhoea and vomiting when they consume breast milk or animal milk.  

Breast milk allergies can be severe and fatal in some babies. This is why you need to consult your child’s paediatrician as soon as you see the first signs of allergies. Infants may outgrow breast milk protein allergy as they grow up, but you need to be cautious. 

Things you can do as a mother

It is advisable to avoid consuming milk and other dairy products (cream, yoghurt, butter, cheese, ice cream, etc.) if your child is showing symptoms of breast milk allergy. You can always phase it back into your diet after a few months.

If your family has a history of allergies, it is ideal to limit the intake of dairy products, peanuts, eggs, fish, and other nuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Moreover, a good substitute for a dairy product is soy milk. So, after your baby becomes 6 months of age, you can take him to a doctor for a skin test, to see if your baby is sensitive to soy protein. If he is not allergic, you can slowly introduce soy milk into his diet. 

Remember that not all foods can cause an allergic reaction. Children may be sensitive to certain foods but they may not show any signs of an allergic reaction. Your baby may cry or fuss when you have spicy food or foods that cause intestinal gas during breastfeeding. These cause minor reactions, which may disappear after 24 hours. So, the ideal approach would be to avoid such foods temporarily and monitor the progress. If allergy symptoms persist for an extended period, it may be a sign of colic. Your child’s paediatrician can guide you appropriately on how to manage these symptoms through dietary modifications. 

Last words

Although breast milk protein allergy is a concern for many parents in India, experts advise caution against misdiagnosis and irrational usage of non-allergenic formulas. Contrary to popular belief, mother’s milk is not allergenic, and you should not refrain from breastfeeding your baby. You can consult your doctor about the reasons for the allergic reaction and discuss the next steps to protect your baby from breast milk protein allergy.