Signs of Food Sensitivities in Babies

signs of food sensitivities in babies

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. 

Food is a big part of every culture. Some foods are used not only to nourish the body but as medicine to heal the body. Galactagogues are foods that help increase milk production and support milk supply. Other foods can help decrease milk supply.

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 an allergen to the parent. 

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 happens 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. This can make 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 foods you are intolerant or sensitive to 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 parents

  • 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

More than 170 foods have been reported as causing allergies in people.(3) This can make it hard to identify all the foods that may be triggering unpleasant symptoms. To eliminate 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 step away from the bush. In gut-healing, this means eliminating the problematic foods. Step 2 is to heal the damage/heal the gut and step 3 is to stay away from that pricker bush - don’t eat the foods you are intolerant of or are 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 one time, it can take up to 6 months for the inflammation antibodies 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 longer period. 

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 there are so many foods that can be triggers, if you have several food sensitivities, it can be like finding a needle in the haystack.
  • Elimination diet - cut out all the top food allergens for 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. It is best to work with a functional medicine doctor to analyze your results and discuss a plan of action. Functional medicine doctors tend to consider a more narrow range than allopathic medical doctors. 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 can hold their muscle in contraction without becoming weak when a food is introduced into their energy field, this is positive feedback and that food is ok for that person. If your arm or muscle is not able to hold the strength, then that food causes sensitivity. It is a useful tool for helping to diagnose food sensitivities.(7)
  • Skin prick test - also called a scratch test. If you are on certain medications or have severe eczema this test is not recommended. 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 a great resource to know which foods contain the highest pesticide load and which do not.
  • Take probiotics that help the beneficial bacteria in your gut to flourish - real improvement happens when you also change your diet to include foods that feed that good bacteria. L.fermentum found in Lacta-Biotic is a probiotic that supports breast/chest health and improves gut health.
  • Supplement with vitamins and minerals you are depleted in. Many herbal galactagogues are also supportive of gut health.
  • Digestive enzymes can help break down your food making them easier to digest. 

It is not uncommon to realize a sensitivity to a food you never suspected once you begin eliminating foods. We get used to how we feel and may not know what it feels to be at our best until the fog of everyday symptoms lifts. You can not trust your gut when your gut is compromised. Our leaky get may trick you and you will crave what foods you are sensitive to. Sugar is addictive. Its reward of pleasure has been shown to mimic the reward and craving comparable to cocaine.(6)

Eating foods in moderation

For foods that you have an intolerance for, this may be alright. If the food causes sensitivity, it may be better to eliminate it all together. Sure, it may be ok for a little while, but perhaps not for long. Think of a glass half full of water. If you keep adding a drop of water at a time soon the glass overflows. 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 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, improves overall health, and will give you more energy and vitality to enjoy life.

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

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