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Food Sensitivities & Breastfeeding

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Author:  Dr. Kate Appleton, ND Calgary AB
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Food Sensitivities & Breastfeeding

Everyone is talking about food sensitivities; Gwyneth Paltrow is proudly gluten-free and even Chelsea Clinton’s wedding cake was said to be gluten-free. But what exactly is a food sensitivity and how does it differ from a food allergy?

Simply speaking, a food sensitivity is a negative reaction to a food that can be safely consumed by other people. Food sensitivities can result in, but are not limited to symptoms such as eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhea bloating and gas. Foods that commonly cause sensitivities in adults include eggs, wheat, citrus, corn and dairy. In contrast to a sensitivity reaction, a true food allergy results in an immune response governed by specific antibodies and chemical messengers such as histamine. The response from an actual food allergy can range from hives or a scratchy throat to a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction.

Having a food sensitivity can produce uncomfortable symptoms, but what about its effect on a breastfeeding baby? If a mother is sensitive to various foods, does it affect her child and if so, what can she do about it?

Breastfeeding is the best nutritional source for every new baby and has been linked to decreased risks of diarrhea, eczema, food and respiratory allergies as well as many chronic conditions such as diabetes. Mothers and their professional caregivers can often link colicky behaviour in babies to something consumed and subsequently passed into the baby’s breast milk. Foods known to be digestively aggravating to breastfeeding babies include members of the cabbage family, garlic, onions, caffeine, fried foods, dairy and eggs (Romm, 2002). It is often advisable to avoid such foods if you notice colic or related discomfort in your baby.

The scientific evidence linking maternal food sensitivities to her baby is not entirely clear. We do know that if the protein from cow’s milk or eggs is able to penetrate a mother’s gastrointestinal wall and enter the blood, it will enter her breast milk. There are also studies that demonstrate that mothers who follow a hypoallergenic diet, a diet with limited food allergens, reduce their infant’s symptoms of colic. One study found that in mothers with a history of eczema, a predisposing factor to the development of allergic reactions in offspring, eczema symptoms may be reduced in breastfed infants when the mother’s adopted a dairy-free diet (Kramer & Kakuma, 2006).  

Regardless of a mother’s food sensitivities, breastfeeding is still best; providing exceptional nutrition and protection against future illnesses. An easy step to learn more about this topic is to work with a licensed naturopathic doctor who can help to identify your specific food sensitivities and support the most nutritious and holistic diet for you and your baby.


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