Can an allergy to milk cause a breast fed infant to be fussy? Typically breast feeding moms can eat a variety of foods and drinks and not limit or restrict anything in their diet. Infants around the world are exposed to many flavors, proteins, and types of foods from mom’s diet. Most infants don’t have any problems with mom’s food intake. However, sometimes an infant is sensitive or allergic to something in mom’s breast milk — most often this is an allergy to milk.
What causes one infant to have a reaction may not cause a reaction in another child. Therefore, there is not a general list of foods to avoid while breast feeding. Each mom and baby is different and each reaction is unique. And, what an infant is sensitive to in the first few months of life, may not cause a reaction at all by 6 months of life.
Symptoms of Milk Allergy or Intolerance
First of all, before you assume milk allergy is the problem and begin eliminating foods from your diet, you’ll need to determine if the symptoms your infant is having are related to your diet or if the fussiness is typical baby fussiness. Many times moms are told (usually by a well-meaning grandma or aunt) that they need to cut out onions and broccoli and spices from their diet while breast feeding. Usually it’s not true. Most moms can eat their typical diet and the infant does just fine. Many infants have “fussy times”. To see what’s considered normal infant fussiness and not necessarily milk allergy click here.
However, if your infant is having the following signs and symptoms then it might be an allergy to milk:
- fussiness throughout the day,
- fussy after nursing,
- vomits or spits up a lot—or has acid reflux symptoms,
- sounds congested,
- wakes suddenly from a deep sleep and cries,
- has colic symptoms,
- eczema, a rash around the mouth or a bad diaper rash,
- green-watery stools or blood in the stool.For the symptoms here, a call to your pediatric office for advice is the first thing to do. Sometimes the symptoms above mean something more serious–not food intolerance. But, if your healthcare provider feels the symptoms your infant is having are related to intolerance to something in the breast milk, the first food typically eliminated from mom’s diet is cow’s milk products– it may be an allergy to milk.
Milk allergy symptoms can be mild at first and progressively get worse. Or, the infant can have a more severe reaction immediately after drinking the breast milk containing the offending food. A reaction can occur immediately but most infants don’t react for hours after being exposed. The reaction can last for up to 2 weeks. Therefore, it’s typically recommended to eliminate one food type for 2 weeks while monitoring your infant’s symptoms of allergy to milk.
The most common allergy culprits are cow’s milk, soy, wheat, eggs, corn, and peanuts.
If you suspect a milk allergy or intolerance, then a trial of eliminating all dairy products from your diet for 2 weeks would be advised. Here’s a brief list of what cow’s milk can be listed as on a food label ingredients list and what products may contain this protein:
- all milk including lacto-free milk,
- butter & some margarines,
- ice cream,
- cottage cheese,
- some luncheon meats,
- sour cream,
- creamy soups or salad dressings,
- processed meats,
- food flavorings,
- caramel coloring,
- & some seasonings for foods like seasoned French fries.Taking a calcium supplement and maybe Vitamin D supplement while you’re on the elimination diet may be recommended by your healthcare provider since dairy products are a typical source for these nutrients in most people’s diets. For more information about a breast feeding mom’s calcium requirements click here.
Typically you’ll see some kind of improvement within 72 hrs of eliminating the food completely from your diet. But even if you don’t, go ahead with a trial of at least 2 weeks to be sure – it can take that long or longer sometimes. It all depends on how sensitive of a milk allergy your infant has and what kind of reaction she had.
If you do notice improvement in your infant’s milk allergy symptoms after the 2 weeks, then stay off cow’s milk products completely for about 1 month more initially (unless the reaction your infant had was severe – then you’ll most likely not reintroduce that food for months if at all). After your infant has had one month of no symptoms, then SLOWLY reintroduce the cow’s milk protein back into your diet. Use processed proteins first – yogurt, cheese. Eat one serving per day for 2 weeks and monitor your infant’s reaction closely. If she starts to have the same symptoms again, then once again eliminate the food from your diet. If she continues to be comfortable and is not having symptoms, then increase to 2 servings of processed milk proteins per day for 2 weeks. If she’s tolerating this, then continue to slowly increase to your normal intake. Most of the time, infants just need a little extra time to allow their system to mature and then they can handle the protein again — the allergy to milk resolves.
If you do find that your infant is very sensitive to milk protein–the allergy to milk is severe, then following a vegan diet may help you balance your nutritional intake. A vegan diet eliminates all animal products as protein sources — so it would be much easier to control your infant’s allergy to milk and milk products. Click here for vegan recipes and meals.An allergy to milk in infancy, typically is a temporary problem. However, some milk allergy symptoms persist.