This blog was inspired by my one-year old son, who was recently diagnosed with peanut, soy, and egg allergies and our family friend who has a dairy allergy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Does Breastfeeding Prevent Food Allergies?

We donated 68 oz of breastmilk today.

Two weeks before L's first birthday, I met my sister and long-time friend in NYC for our annual Broadway adventure. Armed with a handpump and silk scarf,  I easily bottled my own milk in restaurants and theaters. It was satisfying arriving back home with almost 20 four-ounce bottles, along with souvenirs for my boys.  Unfortunately, one week later, L was confirmed with a peanut, egg, and soy allergy, rendering the liquid gold much less valuable.

I kept putting off finding a better home for the milk, until yesterday, when I joined the Facebook group, .  Within 24 hours, I donated the milk to adoptive twin six-month-old boys, whose parents picked it up in the middle of their road trip from Kentucky to Northeast Ohio.

While it has been rewarding to donate breastmilk to babies in need, I am pretty bummed thinking about how I couldn't use the pumped milk. Since the L's diagnoses, I have stopped eating peanut, egg, and soy as well, so I can now pump and feel that I am giving my son milk that is safe for him. But I still question why he has food allergies in the first place, considering that I breastfed and still breastfeed him.

No one in the immediate family has food allergies. But from my limited research, I've learned that there are a couple of factors that may have triggered his allergies. L was born under some pretty scary conditions. My uterus ruptured and he wasn't breathing when he was born. While I was in surgery, he eventually settled comfortably in the NICU and received formula as his first feeding. L didn't get the benefit of breastmilk coating his and the allergens from formula entered his bloodstream via his . Fortunately, L was in the NICU for only 15 hours and I was able to nurse him when I got out of surgery.

Another factor that contributes to food allergies is the early introduction of solids. The open gut allows the passage of breastmilk antibodies into the baby's bloodstream. The gut doesn't close, or mature, until around 6 months- the earliest time that is recommended to start solids. So if baby gets solids (i.e. potential allergens) too early, these allergens enter the bloodstream through the open gut. The body then labels these allergens as harmful and the immune system kicks in to help protect the baby. An immune response may involve hives, tearing eyes, or vomiting, to name a few.

When L was 4 months, he developed horrible and unexplained diarrhea that lasted for weeks. He didn't show signs of a viral or bacterial infection and after negative tests for parasites, his pediatrician recommended starting solids at 5 months in order to resolve the diarrhea. I was really hesitant, especially since I had planned to delay solids for as long as possible. But L wasn't gaining adequate weight, in fact, he was losing some, so I started offering him solids, such as avocado and barley. Indeed, his diarrhea was resolved, but a new set of problems came with it. His eczema, which started around two months for him, got worse. His post nursing gas pains and screams got worse as well. Eating in any form, whether from breastfeeding, or self-feeding, caused him various levels of pain. I was convinced something was wrong, but didn't know what. I didn't even really think about food allergies until he started having rashes while eating. Eventually, we had him tested and the allergies were confirmed. 

Needless to say, I was upset about his diagnoses and initially blamed myself for causing his food allergies. Breastfeeding may have not prevented his food allergies, but it certainly did not cause them. I do plan on nursing him for as long as possible, in hopes that it will help his allergies resolve. Fingers crossed.



  1. You are the best mom Jeanne, we will be nursing out 17 year olds together:)

  2. Just linked to this from Pinterest. I have three daughters, ages 7, 5, and 2. My oldest two do not have food allergies and both received breas tmilk right when they were born. Our youngest daughter was sent straight to the NICU due to breathing problems and was given formula in her feeding tube. Every time they checked to she if she digested the feeding she rarely did. I started pumping colostrum and then my milk once it came in, and those feedings she digested. I nursed her for 23 months! She was diagnosed with severe milk allergy at 12 months and just last night developed hives on her face after I consumed some almond butter and then kissed her on her cheek. Looks like we'll be adding tree nuts and possibly peanuts to her list of allergens. Deep down I believe formula was the cause to her leaky gut and food allergies.
    Living with food allergies is tough, I'm so scared to send her off to school when she's 5. Good luck with this new adventure in your life, and know that many moms are on your side and supportive.