How to Recognize Food Allergies in an Infant
Food allergies can be a serious issue in infants. Babies of any age can experience them, whether they are breastfed, formula fed or eating solid foods. Learning how to recognize and treat food allergies in your baby can help you avoid a lot of discomfort and fussiness.
Symptoms of Food Allergies
Fussiness is often the first cue a baby gives to indicate that something is making him uncomfortable. Though fussiness alone does not mean that a baby has an allergy, it should be ruled out if your baby is consistently fussy, especially after eating, and has any of the following symptoms.
-Excessive Spitting Up or Vomiting: All babies spit-up. Air gets trapped in their stomachs during feeding or crying. As it is expelled, it pushes milk back through the weak muscles of the esophagus and out. As they grow, those muscles get stronger and tighter and don’t allow the milk to come up with the trapped air. However, if your baby has an allergy or sensitivity to something, it might cause him to spit-up frequently or vomit large amounts of milk.
-Intestinal Upset, Diarrhea or Constipation: Food sensitivities and allergies can also cause stomach irritation, intestinal upset, diarrhea or constipation. If your baby is struggling with any of these symptoms and you are breastfeeding, it could be something you are eating. The most common offenders are dairy products. If your baby is formula fed, you may need to switch formulas. If your baby has started solid foods, watch him closely to determine which food is causing the distress.
-Acid Reflux: Especially in young babies, acid reflux is usually accompanied by spitting up or vomiting. Acid reflux is when the contents of the stomach don’t stay put, but wash back up the throat and sometimes into the mouth. As with adults, reflux is very uncomfortable for babies. Most babies will fuss and arch their backs when this happens. If they are sleeping, they may wake suddenly and cry. Some babies have reflux due to the immature muscles in their esophagus, and eventually grow out of it. Other babies develop reflux because they are sensitive to what they are eating. It is important to talk to your doctor if your baby develops acid reflux symptoms.
-Gas: It’s not hard for your baby to become gassy from trapped air. If, however, your baby seems to be gassy much of the time, he may have a food sensitivity.
-Colic: If your baby is fussy, or cries a lot, this is generally described as colic. Many parents associate colic with gassy babies or upset stomach. If your baby is colicky most of the time, look for other symptoms to see if it might be caused by an allergy.
-Mucus and Congestion: Excess mucus is another sign that your baby may be sensitive to a food. If your baby always has a runny or stuffy nose, and environmental allergens like pollen and pet dander have been ruled out, he may be reacting to something he is eating.
Cow milk is a big offender when it comes to excess mucus and congestion. Cow milk allergies can also manifest with mucus in the stool. If these symptoms occur, eliminate all cow milk products from your baby’s diet.
-Rash: One of the biggest indicators of an allergy in your baby is a rash. If your baby has a persistent diaper rash, sore bottom, dry skin, eczema, or rectal bleeding, chances are he has a food allergy. Though some persistent diaper rashes can be caused by yeast or illness, most are caused by food sensitivities. Cutting out the offending food should clear up the rash within a few days to a week. If the rash has not cleared up, take your baby to see his pediatrician.
-Hives: Hives, which look like raised red and sometimes white spots or patches, are a serous sign of an allergic reaction. Hives are an indication that your baby’s immune system is overreacting to histamine. If a baby developed hives, contact your doctor right away, and avoid exposing him to the food that caused them.
-Swelling: Even more serious than hives, is swelling. If, after being exposed to a certain food, your baby develops swelling anywhere on his face, lips, tongue or throat, contact your doctor right away. Watch your baby for any signs of distress, elevated heartrate or difficulty breathing. If these symptoms occur, seek emergency medical intervention immediately.
-Coughing, Wheezing or Asthma: If, after your baby eats, he has any signs of respiratory distress, asthma, wheezing, or coughing that doesn’t stop, seek help right away. This could be an indication of a severe allergic reaction. This is particularly important when introducing solid foods. Watch your child closely when introducing a new food or new formula.
-Anaphylaxis: When a true allergy is present in anyone, there is a risk of developing an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening reaction that takes place when a person has been exposed to an allergen, and their body over reacts. Anaphylaxis causes shock; tightening of airways; a drop in blood pressure; heart rate increase; and sometimes there is swelling, nausea and vomiting. Anaphylaxis is particularly dangerous for babies. For allergies to certain foods, like peanuts, an allergic reaction can go from mild to severe in just one serving. If your baby has had an allergic reaction to a food, speak to your pediatrician about it. Sometimes it is necessary to carry a life-saving epi pen if your baby has severe allergic reactions.
Whenever you introduce a new formula or food to your baby, watch them closely for any of these signs or symptoms. If he develops any of them, discontinue feeding of that food right away. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, and suspect your baby is experiencing an allergic reaction, see our article on allergies in breast fed babies.