What you need to know about food allergies

  • Learn how food allergies happen and who’s at risk.
  • Benefits of breastfeeding.

Food allergies are caused when the body’s immune system abnormally reacts to a food.  Symptoms can vary and include gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal pain, vomiting, colic and diarrhea. Respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, cough, sneezing, and breathing difficulties, or skin irritations—such as rashes or hives—are also common symptoms.

Family history of allergies increases your baby’s risk of developing allergy, but most babies who develop allergy don’t have a family history.

Allergies often develop in stages
  1. A food allergy develops when the immune system becomes sensitized to an allergen in a particular food upon exposure.
  2. Once sensitized, the baby‘s body produces antibodies—little proteins that “lock” onto foreign invaders—that are ready to react to that food the next time it is eaten.
  3. These antibodies then trigger immune cells to produce histamine, a chemical that causes allergy symptoms—rash, wheezing, diarrhea, etc. Your baby’s digestive tract and immune system are particularly vulnerable during the first four months of life.

You may be able to reduce your baby’s risk of developing allergies by limiting her exposure to potential allergens during this time. This is one reason many experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 4 to 6 months and avoiding introducing foods until your baby is at least four months old.

In unusual cases, babies may become sensitized to very small amounts of food proteins that are carried in breastmilk. If you suspect your baby is having an allergic reaction to your breastmilk, talk with your baby’s doctor to discuss symptoms and removing the likely triggers from your diet.

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