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Allergy to breast milk: really exists or not?

There is perhaps no more helpless, vulnerable situation when your baby cries inconsolably for hours, even at night, and you simply can't think of anything to do to calm him or her down. A mother made the astonishing statement that five months after the birth of her baby, what made her life hell was her baby's allergy to breast milk.

Reading a story like that, the question naturally arises: could a baby be allergic to its own mother's milk? Does that even exist?


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Indian-born mother Shilpa Sharma is currently living in Dubai and told her story on an online portal there.

"We went to every doctor in existence and visited emergency departments of various hospitals several times. Everywhere they told me that it's completely normal, it's infantile colic, and that they know I'm a first-time mother who might not be aware of it, but I should be calm that everything is completely fine. And I knew in the meantime, I was quite sure that this was not normal. It's not normal for a baby to cry for 8-9 hours at a time until exhaustion finally puts him to sleep for a while."

The words that Shilpa heard most often from various doctors and other health workers were 'don't worry' and 'calm down' which gave her absolutely no comfort or help with a baby crying in constant pain.

"I noticed that when I breastfed her, it was as if I was giving her poison to drink as the symptoms were almost immediate. Then one of the doctors suggested that the baby might have a milk allergy. Then we were given a special formula that solved the problem almost overnight. The very next day things were much better: the constant crying had stopped completely and it was as if my little girl had been replaced."

Is the baby really allergic to breast milk itself?

The composition of breast milk is designed by nature to meet the baby's exact needs. Several studies have shown that breast milk feeding does not cause allergies, but on the contrary, reduces the risk of developing allergies in babies. In breastfed babies, it is not the breast milk itself that causes the allergy symptoms but the allergenic proteins that enter the breast milk.

"We hear everywhere – and it is true – that breast milk is the most perfect food for babies so it can be shocking to find out that your breastfed baby has a stomach ache or skin rashes caused by a food allergy"

– says Dr Marianne Polgar, paediatrician and gastroenterologist at the Buda Allergy Centre. Symptoms of food allergy can occur even during the breastfeeding period. Molecules from the food eaten by the mother pass into the breast milk, albeit in very small amounts. And babies with a particular allergic predisposition may show abnormal symptoms even from this very small amount of foreign protein in their breast milk.

"Typical symptoms of food allergy are eczema, hives, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea. If a child comes to me with these symptoms, the first thing I ask the parent about is the child's diet"

– explains the specialist. Most people are surprised to hear that these are most likely allergic symptoms in a breastfed baby as it is more common knowledge that formula made from cow's milk causes these kinds of complaints. Other suspicious findings eg. frequent runny noses and middle ear infections may also be warning signs of food allergy.

What is the solution?

Unlike the story in the introduction, the solution in such cases is not to stop breastfeeding. The first step is to try to identify the allergenic ingredients in the mother's diet that cause cry allergy symptoms when passed from breast milk to the baby. To do this, the mother must adhere very strict elimination diet. She should first remove milk from her diet, and if baby's symptoms resolving, it can be considered proven that the baby is hypersensitive to one of the milk ingredients. If milk is not found to be the food causing the symptoms, then further attempts can be made to eliminate other food elements that are typical allergens (e.g. eggs, soya).

Photo: Dreamstime

A cikk magyar nyelvű változatát itt találod.

Written by Dr Ildiko Simonfalvi

consultant radiologist, health specialist translator and health specialist journalist

This content does not act for formal medical recommendation or health care visit.

More articles in English by Anyas-Apas:

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