Life With a Newborn: Identifying Food Allergies |

Life With a Newborn: Identifying Food Allergies

admin August 26, 2011

Jacob asleep in his bassinet 🙂

I hate to say it, but I have more knowledge on this topic than I ever wanted….  Primarily with my first two babies, although I’ve noted that Jacob is sensitive to food additives.  It’s not too bad because I basically can eat anything I make at home (no ‘food groups’ to avoid), but I do have to prepare everything myself!

These days, a lot of babies are allergic to foods, and these allergies or sensitivities show up within days to weeks of birth.  It can happen in formula-fed babies (which can require trying several different types of formula, including special hydrolyzed formulas in severe cases), but it can also happen in breastfed babies.  That’s what my experience has been with — allergies in breastfed babies.

Why Are Breastfed Babies Allergic?

Babies cannot be allergic to breastmilk itself.  They can, however, be allergic to something that the mother is eating and passing along in her breastmilk.

This can happen when a mother’s gut health is not optimal.  What she eats doesn’t get fully digested before some of it is absorbed through a leaky gut wall (“leaky” because there are places that aren’t populated by the beneficial bacteria that should be there).  These undigested proteins get into the breastmilk and get passed to the baby, whose system can’t handle it.  This leads to sensitizing the baby and causing allergies.  The baby’s gut is open at birth and remains that way until at least 18 weeks of age, which means any large proteins are absorbed immediately into the bloodstream (which causes the sensitizing and allergies).

Breastfeeding is still crucial, because breastmilk contains IgA, a substance that coats the intestines and helps them to mature and close properly.  It also protects against allergies by preventing properly digested proteins in mother’s milk from getting out of the gut.  If formula is used instead because baby is reacting to mother’s milk, then the IgA is lost and baby’s gut is sensitized automatically by whatever baby is eating (usually milk or soy based formulas).

Signs of Allergies

There are many different signs of allergies.  It depends on the baby and the severity of the reaction.  For example, when my gut health wasn’t optimal, I noted a lot more of these signs.  Now that my gut health is pretty good, I note only a couple (and then only if I’ve eaten something I really shouldn’t have anyway).

  • Eczema (yes, it is a sign of allergies!)
  • Fussiness/crying/screaming
  • Gas (especially if it causes baby a lot of discomfort)
  • Spitting up (a tiny bit is normal, a lot or if it causes discomfort is not)
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty nursing (baby pulls back, chokes, screams, arches back)
  • Red ring around anus
  • Diaper rash
  • Failure to gain weight/slow weight gain
  • Red, itchy palms
  • Night waking/disturbed sleep

You may notice some or all of these.  With Daniel I noted spitting up, gas, fussiness, difficulty nursing, red ring around the anus (irritated red, not pale pink, which is normal), and later diaper rash.  Eczema was a major sign for Bekah, along with night waking, diaper rash, and diarrhea.  Every baby is different, but these signs clearly say “something’s not right.”

Determining the Culprit

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what’s causing the problem, especially if it’s multiple things.  Dairy, soy, and wheat are the top culprits and should always be suspected first.  Corn and nuts are also major issues.  However, it can be any number of foods.  I’ve heard of pomegranates (that was an issue for Daniel), bell peppers, and all kinds of other obscure foods being a major problem, so if none of the main suspects seem to be the cause, try other things.

Foods can get into your milk from almost immediately to 12 – 18 hours after ingesting it.  I know that foods usually get into my milk 5 – 6 hours after ingestion (with Daniel this was true).  It clears your system 18 – 24 hours later.

For this reason, it’s helpful to keep a food diary.  Write down what you’ve eaten and also what baby’s reaction is, if any.  After a few days or a week, patterns should emerge — when you eat certain food(s), baby reacts poorly.  Eliminate these foods and you should see changes.

It’s important to note that while the foods can clear your system in about 24 hours, resulting in improvement in baby’s reactions, if you’ve been eating the regularly they won’t clear your system completely for up to 2 months.  Therefore, if you note some improvement but not complete reversal of symptoms, continue with the elimination diet.

Elimination diets aren’t fun, but they are necessary for your baby’s health.  These reactions are also a huge indicator that your gut health isn’t right, and that you probably have food sensitivities too.  It’s best if you don’t eat them, for your own health.

Helping Food Allergies

Are you or your baby just destined to suffer from these food allergies forever, now that it’s started?  No!

Fortunately, you can move past these allergies.  I have done it with two babies and now have a third that doesn’t have any “regular” allergies (just the minor reactions to food additives…which really has just driven home the point that these are not actually foods and we should not eat them!).

Here’s the best way to handle it (in my experience):

  1. Keep breastfeeding — Your baby needs that IgA to help his/her gut mature properly.  Formula will hurt his/her gut when it is already sensitized.
  2. Eliminate the offending food(s) — Stop consuming the foods that are causing the reactions in order to prevent further damage
  3. Begin GAPS — This is a special diet that eliminates grains and dairy and focuses heavily on meats, stock, probiotic foods, and fats to heal and seal the gut lining.  This diet is how we achieved healing from allergies, and we still go back to it frequently.
  4. Delay solids — Your baby shouldn’t have solids until his/her gut is sealed properly through breastfeeding while you eat according to GAPS.  This should be around 9 – 10 months (assuming you discover allergies in the first few months, not later in baby’s life).  First foods should be stock, fats, meat, and probiotic foods.
  5. Shore up your gut health with GAPS — Stay on GAPS until your gut health is better in order to prevent problems with future babies!

Food allergies in infants aren’t fun.  And it’s not easy to handle.  But you can do it, and still help everybody be as healthy as possible!

Have you dealt with food allergies in infants before?  How did you figure out that your baby struggled with allergies and what the causes were?

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  1. My daughter who is now almost 15 months had a lot of these symptoms at a young age. She was deemed "colic" and I tried my hardest to avoid suspected food from my diet that I thought was causing her food reactions. I am still nursing her and have had her tested for food allergies. She is allergic to lots of things: soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. In addition to environmental allergens of mold, tree pollen, ragweed, cats, and dogs. She is on medications to help. I started her on a probotic due to her continued yeast infections. She had her first around 1 month of age and maybe even sooner. Do you know of any other ways to help build her gut without exposing her to her food allergies? Any advice or help would be appreciated. Thanks.


  2. Now that I know so much about food allergies, and I was only breastfed for 2 months, I was unfortunately destined to have gut, digestive and food "allergy" problems since almost birth. It took 30 years and a good alternative doctor to find out the real causes behind these problems and that I do have these problems, denied and not recognized by conventional medicine.


  3. thanks for another great post, Katie. What an adorable photo of Jacob, thanks for sharing! 🙂


  4. I am trying to determine if Christopher has allergies. He is 30.5 months and rarely talks and is small (18-24 month clothing). We were going to do GAPS starting this month (or at least getting prepared for it) but, due to moving I thought that unwise, and Praise the Lord the health issues that really made me want to do it are going away with other changes. We are going gluten-free though, because, I am pretty sure that I am at least sensitive to wheat and/or gluten.

    Christopher has displayed no food allergies as a baby. He has had a couple diaper rashes but we connected those to specific food (‘oh maybe he should not have had two slices of Papa John’s cheese pizza’ *cough* or ‘perhaps while we were playing that game at my Moms house we should have put the candy a little higher or NEVER TURNED our back’). He (and Natalia) do not have rashes, spit up (barely), diaper rashes without clear explanation, neither are fussy, ect. If He displayed NONE of those things, but now is displaying a few things, is it worth even trying. Or just except that he is not much of a talker and he has his parent’s genes (and is therefore small).

    On a related note, he has been talking a lot more lately (he said “Dad, I need to go pee” the other day!!!!!!!), but I do not quite remember if it really started when we stopped gluten.


    • hi, I read an article last year about a boy who had major speech delays. the family were super “healthy” vegans. the mother did some research and decided that his brain was starving for fats. she started giving him bone broths and pastured dairy products and his speech has come forward in leaps and bounds. might be worth looking into. 🙂


  5. My daughter first started showing signs of food allergies at 2 months. She was spitting up after every feeding and developed very severe eczema on her face and tops of her feet. After too many frustrating visits to her pediatrician, I finally demanded that she be seen by a pediatric allergist because we were getting no answers. Thank goodness I had been very cautious with her foods up until we saw the allergist because she was severely allergic to eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, wheat, and peas. We were very receptive to her reaction to certain foods. If she spit out foods or refused to eat them, we did not push it and immediately took it off the menu. We also started giving her Nutramigen formula and rice milk in lieu of other dairy products once I could no longer breastfeed.

    I wish I had been even more cautious with her food intake and that I had been pushier with her pediatrician because she was suffering from these allergies for so long. Since, we are all now on a meat-eating vegan diet, we are all a very happy and healthy family!


    • Hi Peyton, I am really curious…what is a meat-eating vegan diet? Do you mean dairy-free? I have never heard it referred to that way before.


  6. Kate,
    I just discovered this page and I want to cry tears of relief that I have found someone who understands.
    Gray was born 8/24/11. In September I had mastitis twice and took two rounds of antibiotics for it, only after I stopped them did I realize those antibiotics were causing his “colic”. But by October he started showing signs of eczema, which slowly got worse. By November his eczema was horrible, scabs all over his face and behind the ears. From December through March it spread, his face bled all over everything. During this time we went to his pediatrician and pediatric dermatologist, who recommended we do steroid and antibiotic creams, and wait and see. It was a constant cycle of upping the creams and waiting to see if it helped. I was told the allergist would be the last resort, because it was unlikely anything was passing through breast milk. I followed all the instructions exactly, it never helped. He could never sleep too, he was alway itching and always obviously uncomfortable, he developed sores on his back, behind the legs, his ankles, elbows, and shoulders, there were always bright red and often bleeding patches of skin. Finally we got to see the allergist in March. When I showed up it was a first year fellow, who said “it looks like he is being treated for eczema, what do you want us to do about it?” I had to beg to have him treated for food allergies, and they tested for the most common 8. He tested positive for eggs, dairy, and peanuts. I cut those out and within days there was drastic improvement for the better. However some sores remained and a few weeks later I begged for more tests of more foods and indoor/outdoor allergens. They did a blood test, and it all came back negative. I am sure there are at least more sensitivities, but I have no idea how to find them. So I’m cutting out gluten and corn next, just in case. I’ll be searching your website for more info. But what do you suggest I do to help find out more food sensitivities? What else can I do to help him? I really appreciated your arguments to continue breastfeeding, my instincts tell me to, but other people are telling me I may be causing his problems and at least with allergen free formula he would get clear skin, so thank you!


  7. Kate,
    I am suspicious that my 5.5 month old has food allergies, bot no one will believe me, and then I get to thinking I’m crazy. But I KNOW something isn’t right, and I really believe it’s an internal problem. She has severe eczema all over her. And her torso gets covered in little red dots all over! But her pediatrician and now dermatologist just pass it off as eczema. I had antibiotics during her birth, and then I had them again a couple of months later because I got strep throat.

    Anyway, I can do the elimination thing to see how she reacts, but what do I do, if anything, to HEAL her from the inside out? I’ve read bits and pieces of the GAPS diet, but don’t have the actual book. How can I do it with limited money??? Aren’t there so many supplements required to do the diet? We can’t afford those. And what about all the special meats? We can’t afford all the special organic meats. Can I do the diet and just skip the extra stuff, and just buy the best quality meat we can afford, even if it isn’t the “best?”

    I hope you read this, and I know you get tons of comments, but I hope you can reply and offer me some help. I don’t know where to turn to dig more into this issue for my daughter.

    Thank you!



    • Hi Jill,

      Despite what doctors believe, eczema is NOT normal. It is a sign of food allergies and gut damage. This was a huge issue for my daughter during her infancy, until we did GAPS. The eczema disappeared and hasn’t come back (she’s almost 5). Just because doctors believe something is “normal” does not mean it is.

      GAPS is the best solution — for both of you. You do not need the supplements. You do need a source of probiotics but you can make your own fermented foods very cheaply. Try making fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, milk kefir, and more. They really are not expensive to make at home, and probiotics are so necessary to healing.

      You focus a lot on soups on GAPS. Meat goes a lot further when you make stock and use it for soup. Buy the best meat you can and use a little less of it and focus on veggies and stock instead. You can “ease in” as you can afford to. You can also buy a lot of squash, which is seasonal and fairly cheap right now, because GAPS uses a lot of that. Good eggs are helpful as well. Try buying lots of carrots, celery, peas, broccoli, onions, garlic, and other “cheap” veggies to add to your soups. I also encourage you to drink ginger tea a couple of times a day — just buy a piece of fresh ginger and use a couple slices to make tea. Fairly cheap and very beneficial. has a lot of basic info. I hope this helps!


  8. Kate,
    My son only has the red ring around his anus, but doesnt really show any other symptoms? Is this normal? He doesnt even seem bothered by it, but when I look at it it looks painful to me so I’ve put the zinc oxide cream on it and it usually goes away after a few days..but this has been happening on and off pretty much since birth and he’ll be 20 weeks this Thursday? I feel awful now because I didnt bring it up to his ped. because I just thought it was a diaper rash and it doesnt bother him..I’m definitely going to have his ped. check it out now that I’ve been reading about it..but in the mean time, what do you think?


    • Hi Lacey,

      From what I know, that is usually sign of a food intolerance. I might try eliminating dairy, soy, or gluten to see if this helps, or just keeping a food diary to see if anything appears to be related to it. If he has no other symptoms, I wouldn’t worry too much. (Eczema, poor sleeping, fussiness, gas might be other symptoms.)


  9. I am on my second nursling with intolerances. I elliminated dairy and soy first they were the big culprits for I th of my boys and then I just paid attention to anything else that might be an ofender. Id tskensomehing suspect out and wait for things to settle and then trial it over 1-3 days and see what if any of it was tolerable for my baby. The first time around I had to eliminate a lot more than I have the second time but I also started a few weeks sooner and so did less damage to my sons gut. Thanks for this I’ve been wondering if we should all do GAPS diet and looking into it and this sorta sealed the deal. I am going to dig in and figure it out.


  10. Where was this article when I was going through this with my first!? I was desperate for this information, strongly suspecting this is what was going on but no one believed me. Now I’m anxious to make sure my second child doesn’t go through this as well. Thank you for putting your story out there!


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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