Infant Food Allergies and Breastfeeding: by Dr. Trill Paullin
August 18, 2020
Parent reported infant food intolerance has spiked dramatically from 10% in 2000 to 25% in 2020. How can mothers breastfeed an infant with food allergies?
In 2015, my husband and I were thrust into the world of infant food intolerance when our colicky 3-week-old was admitted to the hospital with severe rectal bleeding and full-body eczema. We were quite literally told that my breastmilk was killing our baby. They started her on a corn syrup based, hypoallergenic formula and I was devastated that our breastfeeding journey seemed to have abruptly come to an end. I began asking her doctors if it was possible to make hypoallergenic breastmilk. Each one scoffed at the idea. Technically I could, but since they could not effectively test her for which allergen caused her reaction, I would have to eliminate them all.
I breastfed my oldest for a year while allergen free. My second daughter was born in 2018 and is plagued with the same ailment. After three years I was surprised to find that there was still little to no content available for parents in this situation. I decided that it was time to remedy that problem and provide the platform they needed to make informed decisions. This is what led me to founding Free to Feed (www.freetofeed.com).
Infant Food Allergies
Today, I work with hundreds of families navigating breastfeeding through infant food allergies and intolerance. These cases are particularly complicated by very small humans who cannot effectively communicate what is wrong plus the entangled web of misinformation surrounding maternal dietary consumption to breast milk transmission.
Many mothers are inaccurately told that ingested proteins will plague their milk for weeks on end. Research indicates that is not the case, with actual data showing concentration peaks around 2 hours post-ingestion and often clears within 8 hours. While that can allow mothers to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it still means that things like accidental allergen exposure can lead to 2-3 feedings with the trigger food, often unknown until it is much too late.
How Food Companies Play a Role
The added nuance of mother to infant transmission means that breastfeeding parents in this space truly need food manufacturing companies who will go above and beyond to provide wholesome foods with rigorous allergen protocols. While working with mothers for the past two years, I have found that breastfeeding elimination diets can quickly escalate to a point where mom is only consuming a handful of foods. While there are instances where this is necessary, I would argue that is the exception instead of the rule.
Mothers become detectives, closely examining food intake compared to reactions in an attempt to determine the trigger item or items. Unfortunately, without an effective method to analyze human milk for allergens (YET!) there is no way to know when unaccounted foods, such as hidden allergens from cross contamination or confusing labeling practices, enter the mix. This can lead mom to thinking that a known ingredient is causing her infant’s distress, so she continues to eliminate more foods. Often, when digging deeper into mother’s intake, we discover the likely culprit hidden in a seemingly benign food, supplement, beverage, or seasoning. By then, many well-intentioned moms have cut their intake so severely that malnutrition and mental health concerns may arise.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration held every year from 1 to 7 August. Across the globe, governments, organizations, and individuals rally around breastfeeding resources and support. In 2020, this was even more apparent as WHO and UNICEF unveiled this year’s theme as, “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet,” specifically calling for skilled breastfeeding counseling.
As explained beautifully in their theme’s release, “Skilled counseling services can ensure that mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, the advice, and the reassurance they need to nourish their babies optimally. Breastfeeding counseling can help mothers to build confidence while respecting their individual circumstances and choices.”
While awareness campaigns work to improve breastfeeding rates, an alarmingly growing trend has proven yet another obstacle for all parents: infant food allergies and intolerance. Parent reported infant food intolerance has spiked dramatically from 10% in 2000 to 25% in 2020. For those consuming only formula, parents often must use trial and error to find the version baby can tolerant. For those breastfeeding, the course of action is less clear.
What We Can Do!
Until there is an effective method to provide an ingredient deck for the breast, food companies can support these breastfeeding warriors by providing nutrient-dense, straightforward allergen labeling with strict cross-contamination policies. Furthermore, professionals, family, and friends can help by sharing companies like Kip’s who are dedicated to providing safe and healthy food options.
With love, Dr. Trill Free to Feed Founder & CEO Molecular & Cellular Biologist Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran
Want to know how you can support food allergy mothers in your lactation practice? The Food Allergy and Breastfeeding Master Class can help you empower women through this process: www.freetofeed.com/masterclass