Breast milk is liquid gold. But not for my eczema baby, due to her food allergies. Which is so heartbreaking, knowing that something so full of goodness is actually making her skin flare up, causing her distress and many sleepless nights. In this article, we weigh the pros and cons of breast milk when it can actually trigger known food allergies in breastfed babies, and how the mother’s restrictive diet can allow baby to continue to reap the benefits of this liquid gold, while being free of eczema symptoms.
Breastfeeding is the gold standard
A mother’s milk is the best gift to any baby. Nature designs it to give baby the best chance of survival. As baby grows, the contents of the breast milk changes to allow baby to continue to thrive, based on whatever proteins, vitamins and fats that baby needs at each stage of growth.
Chock full of antibodies, breast milk helps baby fight off infections by viruses and bacteria. I experienced this so many times with my four kids. When I fell sick, the germs get passed on to the other children easily, even the adults at home. Only the breastfed child remained healthy as he or she bore the immunity idol.
Breast milk is easily digested by infants, unlike formula milk, which can give some unpleasant digestion problems like spitting up, constipation, etc.
The biggest reason why I love breastfeeding is the bonding I get with my babies: the skin-to-skin contact, the eye contact, and the feeling of closeness is something beyond description, something only mothers will understand.
This website: www.webmd.com has more information on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Due to the immense benefits, any mother, within her means, will want to breastfeed her baby. But when breast milk actually carries some harmful effects, a dilemma sets in, and we have to weigh the benefits against the distress it causes the baby.
My daughter, M, was born an itchy baby. From the first day of her life, she started scratching her legs. There and then, I knew I had an eczema baby. It is in the family, one of my older children has it too.
Fortunately for M, the first year of her life, her eczema was contained to itchy skin. Her skin was still smooth and strong, so the scratching did not cause broken skin. Just some bothersome nights, which we could still live with.
Two days after her one year old vaccination, she developed an eczema flare that went totally out of control and never abated for one whole year, until we sought the help of a homeopath, who gave remedies that finally removed whatever toxins that affected her since the vaccination.
In that one year, we never made the link between her flare and vaccines. In fact, I had no idea vaccines could cause such a long-drawn reaction. So as we were trying to identify the cause, we ordered a skin prick test that revealed several allergies: egg, peanuts, and dust mites. Despite removing these from her life and my diet, since I was breastfeeding her, her flare continued.
It was only after the homeopathic treatment for vaccine that saw her persistent flare finally calming down. After that, her reaction to the food allergies through the breast milk then became apparent. If I were to eat any wrong food, like pasta that had egg as one of its ingredients, or some cake at a social event, she would flare, and it would be obvious.
So came the dilemma. On top of the benefits of breastfeeding discussed above, I knew she would be my last baby, so I wanted to breastfeed her for as long as I could. But it meant utmost discipline on my part to watch my diet, as eggs and peanuts are practically in all foods in the Asian culture!
I did go on an egg free and peanut free diet for close to a year, but it was really sapping the life out of me, to not be able to eat out freely. There were times I cheated, I have to admit. And M suffered. Then I felt so guilty, even though her allergic reactions were not life-threatening, they were enough to cause bad itches, sleepless nights and cranky days. So eventually we called it a day with breastfeeding.
Food allergies in breastfed babies – breast milk as the carrier
Breast milk can trigger food allergies in breastfed babies. Whatever foods the mother consume, after being digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, can go into the breast milk. These include the problematic proteins that trigger allergic reactions in babies, which could come from dairy, eggs, nuts, etc.
So the solution is straightforward: a mother’s diet free of allergens is usually all that is needed to calm down the eczema itch and inflammation, or any other allergic reactions. But many times, it is easier said than done. Then the last resort would be to stop breastfeeding and use formula (if baby is younger than 6 months), or let baby (older than 6 months) go on a solid diet, monitored closely to ensure it is free of allergens.
Unless there are conclusive indications that baby is allergic to certain foods, for instance through blood tests or skin prick tests, otherwise the breastfeeding mother should not go on any restrictive diet simply for the fear of food allergies developing in the child, as the benefits of a well-balanced diet outweigh the small chance of baby having an allergic reaction. In fact, some elementary research has shown breastfeeding to reduce the risks of babies developing eczema.
Restrictive diet – remove allergens
If there are known allergens that your baby has tested positive to, remove every trace from your diet. In these days of processed foods dominating the food industry, it means scrutinising the labels. Not just that, you have to be aware of ingredients that can hide the allergen without spelling it out explicitly.
If your child has not tested positive to any allergen, but yet is disturbed by a silent itch and rashes, some low level of inflammation, and you suspect it has to do with your diet, then these are the main foods you can consider removing from your diet, the top 8 allergens:
- tree nuts
For more information about these top 8 allergens, visit this website: www.mayoclinic.org.
For a start, you may want to just remove the first four on the list, as these are the main culprits when it comes to food allergies in babies with eczema. If your baby’s symptoms do not improve, then add the next four to the list of foods to remove from your diet while breastfeeding.
As you go about your investigative work, do note that the list of foods to avoid should always be added on, and not switched around. This is to save the confusion and mis-conclusions that may arise due to multiple food allergies.
If baby does not improve after you remove egg from your diet, he may be reacting to soy which you are still taking. If you were to try removing soy next, and at the same time put back egg into your diet, then he will continue to display allergic symptoms, this time due to the egg. At the end of the day, you may think that baby is not allergic to egg or soy, since cutting them out from your diet does not help. When in fact, he could be allergic to both.
So you would have wasted all the time and effort, while baby continues to be disturbed by the allergic symptoms.
It is very possible to overcome food allergies in breastfed babies, by making the conscious effort to remove the allergens from your diet. If it is not practical or sustainable to do so, then consider stopping breastfeeding. It will be in the best interest of the child, given the circumstances. So do not feel guilty about it, motherhood is tough and stressful enough. Every mother will do their best for the health and well being of their child, so do not let anyone judge you for whatever decision you make.