Signs of Food Sensitivities in Babies

Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC

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Time to read 7 min

Food is a big part of every culture to nourish the body and soul as friends and family gather around a table at mealtimes. Some foods are used as medicine to heal the body and as galactagogues to support lactation and increase milk production. Beware, as other foods can decrease the milk supply. With food being such a big part of our lives, it is challenging when it causes adverse reactions in our babies. Identifying food sensitivities can help you begin healing and eliminate uncomfortable symptoms they cause for you and your baby.

Defining food

Food is defined as any nutritious substance that provides nutritional support for an organism. (1) Food may be from a plant, animal, or fungus and provides nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals that our body needs to grow and develop. 


People who are breastfeeding are encouraged to eat a variety of healthy foods. (2) Some foods should be limited, including caffeine, sugar, processed foods, and any food known to cause sensitivity or are allergens to the mom. 

Intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy?

These words often get used interchangeably, but there are differences between each. Food intolerance and sensitivity affect the digestive system. Over time, more symptoms can arise if you still eat the foods causing problems. 


Allergic reactions to food involve the immune system. Your body sees that food as an invader and reacts by sending out immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to the cells, causing an allergic reaction that happens immediately. An immunoglobulin G (IgG) reaction occurs when you have a food sensitivity. It is a delayed reaction that happens up to 72 hours later. (5)


  • Intolerance  - Symptoms are usually felt right away or soon after eating and are experienced only within the digestive system. Food intolerances are typically the result of enzyme deficiencies. 
  • Sensitivity - Reactions to foods you are sensitive to might not happen right away. The reaction can be delayed, making it harder to figure out all the foods causing a sensitivity. Over time, continuing to eat foods you are sensitive to creates more inflammation in your body. 
  • Allergy - Food allergies are very serious and can be life-threatening. Food allergies can develop at any age, including infancy. If you think your baby is having an allergic reaction, call your doctor right away. Severe symptoms can include anaphylaxis.

Eating small amounts of intolerant or sensitive foods may not cause too much discomfort, but symptoms and reactions can worsen over time. Food allergies affect 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 13 children. (3) Food sensitivities and intolerance are even more common than that.

Symptoms of food intolerance & sensitivity in babies

  • Gas or bloating
  • Colic
  • Reflux
  • Congestion
  • Skin rashes
  • Cradle cap
  • Eczema
  • Constipation (9)
  • Diaper rash
  • Frothy, pasty, sandy, or watery poop diapers
  • Blood in the stool
  • Slow weight gain

Symptoms of food intolerance & sensitivity in adults

  • Frequent gas or bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation (stooling less than 1-3 times per day)
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired or worn out all the time
  • Brain fog
  • Hives, eczema, or skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Frequent colds or congestion
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Postpartum depression
  • Arthritis
  • Joint pain
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea

Top 8 Allergens

  • Dairy
  • Gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats*, spelt, kamut, triticale)
  • Peanut
  • Tree nut
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Fish and crustacean shellfish
  • Sesame is becoming a concern because allergy to sesame is on the rise

*Oats alone are a gluten-free food but may have come from a facility that also processes other grains containing gluten, and the oats may be cross-contaminated. Choose oats labeled gluten-free.


More than 170 foods have been reported as causing allergies in people. (3) This can make it difficult to identify all the foods that may be triggering unpleasant symptoms. If your baby has symptoms of food sensitivity, you need to figure out what foods are causing a problem for them and you. 


Addressing food sensitivities is a bit like being near a pricker bush that keeps poking you and causing damage to your skin. Step 1 is to move away from the bush. In gut healing, this means eliminating problematic foods. Step 2 is to heal the damage in the gut, and step 3 is to stay away from that pricker bush - don’t eat the foods you are intolerant or sensitive to. 


While a food may be out of your system relatively quickly, it can take much longer for the effects of eating a food that causes sensitivity to go away. For example, after eating gluten just once, the inflammation antibodies can take up to 6 months to settle down. (4) So, while a food may be out of your system and not in your milk, the inflammatory response can be experienced for a much longer period of time. 

Testing for food sensitivities

  • Keep a food journal to track what you eat and how it makes you feel immediately after eating and several hours later. After a week or two, see if you notice any patterns. Because so many foods can be triggering, having several food sensitivities can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
  • Elimination diet - cut out all the top food allergens for a period of 6 weeks. Add one food back in at a time to see if symptoms return and identify that food as a trigger. 
  • Blood tests - there are several types of blood tests. Working with a functional medicine doctor to analyze your results and discuss an action plan is best. Functional medicine doctors consider a narrower range of results than an allopathic medical doctor. A wider lens considers a broader range to be within normal limits, while a more narrow lens catches food intolerances and sensitivities that may otherwise be missed.
  • Muscle testing or applied kinesiology - a biofeedback method testing for sensitivities to foods. If the person is able to hold their muscle in contraction without becoming weak when a food is introduced into their energy field, this is a positive feedback, and that food is okay for that person. If your arm or muscle is not able to hold the strength, then that food is one that causes sensitivity. It is a valuable tool for helping to diagnose food sensitivities. (7)
  • Skin prick test - also called a scratch test. This test is not recommended if you are on certain medications or have severe eczema. This test checks for immediate reactions to allergens.

Healing the gut

  • Rotate the foods you eat - this helps keep the immune system calm
  • Eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods - consider eating all the colors of the rainbow, food that is found locally and is in season, and organic when possible. The Environmental Working Group is an excellent resource for knowing which foods contain the highest pesticide load and which do not.
  • Take probiotics that help the beneficial bacteria in your gut flourish - real improvement happens when you change your diet to include foods that feed that good bacteria.
  • L.fermentum, found in Lacta-Biotic, is a probiotic that supports breast health and improves gut health. Lacta-Biotic contains a strain of probiotics called Lactobacillus fermentum CECT5716. This strain is found in human breast milk and offers protection by promoting overall breast health for the mom and a healthy immune system for the baby. Studies show preventively taking L.fermentum CECT5716 may help improve breast discomfort and resolve active cases of mammary dysbiosis.
  • Supplement with vitamins and minerals you are depleted in. Many herbal galactagogues that are lactation supplements are also supportive of gut health.
  • Digestive enzymes can help break down your food, making them easier to digest.

It is common to identify other food sensitivities to foods you never suspected once you begin eliminating foods. We get used to how we feel and may not know what it feels like to be at our best until the fog of everyday symptoms lifts. Your leaky gut may trick you, and you will crave the foods you are sensitive to. 


Reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Sugar is addictive. Its reward of pleasure has been shown to mimic the reward and craving comparable to cocaine. (6) It is hard to break down and can end up hanging around in the bowels. It moves slowly through the intestines and feeds the bad bacteria. Symptoms of this include excess gas, belly aches, and cramping.

Eating foods in moderation

For foods that you have an intolerance to, this may be alright. If the food causes sensitivity, it may be better to eliminate it altogether. Sure, it may be ok for a while, but only for a short time. Think of a closet. If you keep putting things in there, the closet gets full. If you continue, the closet will overflow at some point, and you cannot tolerate all you have put in there. The same goes for eating food that your body is sensitive to. It may be alright and not cause symptoms right away, but inflammation in the body increases, and as time goes by, symptoms begin to express or surface and cause problems.


Taking medications to relieve symptoms does not treat the root cause and can sometimes cause more nutrient depletion and harm. Steroids are commonly given for skin issues but can be addictive. Acid blockers deplete vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and magnesium. (8) Cutting out food sensitivities and healing the gut is a long-term solution that improves overall health and gives you more energy and vitality to enjoy life.


Not every food you are sensitive to needs to be eliminated forever. As you address the underlying issues, some of those foods can be added back in, and you will no longer react to them. Other foods will likely cause disruption and may remain food sensitivities for life. 


Food plays a significant role in our lives, providing nourishment and pleasure. However, it can also cause adverse reactions and discomfort for some moms and babies. Understanding food intolerance, sensitivity, and allergy differences helps identify and address these issues. Eliminating problematic foods, healing the gut, and making dietary adjustments can alleviate symptoms and improve overall health. Remember, it is a journey of self-discovery and healing, and with patience and perseverance, you can find a balanced approach to food that supports your well-being and that of your baby.

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