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Listener Question: Can My Baby Be Allergic to My Milk?

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Listener Question: Can My Baby Be Allergic to My Milk?

May 25, 2017

If your newborn isn’t taking to your breast milk, could she be allergic? According to Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, the chances are very low. Dr. Jones goes through the few situations in which a baby is seemingly “allergic” to Mom’s breast milk and offers ways you can help her overcome them.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Have a question? Ask it. Send your listener question to

Interviewer: It's time for another listener question and we're here with Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones. Dr. Jones, the question sent in was, "Could my baby be allergic to my breast milk? I've noticed that he's not really absorbing it, he's not really taking it, but he's fine with formula milk."

Dr. Jones: To start at the beginning, babies cannot be allergic to your breast milk.

Interviewer: The answer is just no?

Dr. Jones: The answer is no. However, there are proteins in what you eat that are absorbed into your bloodstream that then come out in the breast milk, and certainly there are flavors in what you eat that come out in the breast milk. In fact, there are flavors of what you eat when you're pregnant that flavor the amniotic fluid, and the baby is already kind of drinking your garlic or your hot sauce, or whatever it might be. The babies will not be allergic to your breast milk. Newborns don't actually form an allergic response. So it takes a while for babies to be able to even form an allergic response.

So, if newborns are throwing up, you start to really worry that maybe they have a problem with their stomach. So sometimes babies actually have a weakness in their stomach that allows the fluid to come back up. So some babies actually have to be fed kind of thickened milk or have to be slept tilted like people who have reflux. So babies can have reflux and newborns can have reflux until they're a little older. So babies can have reflux and that can make them throw up, and it's not they're allergic, it's just that they can't keep the fluid down.

Secondly, there are some babies with congenital malformations that cause a blockage in the esophagus. This is very rare and it's devastating. So there's a blockage in the esophagus and the fluids go down into their lungs. This is called a TE, a tracheoesophageal fistula. Once again, it's the baby that's not actually absorbing because it's going down the wrong way.

Now, let's take babies a little bit older. They actually can be allergic and develop an allergy to things that are in your food, and the most common is milk. So milk proteins in milk, of course, when . . . oh, cow's milk, there is something called casein and this is a protein that a mom might actually have in her blood and that the baby might actually develop an allergy to. That being the case, babies might get a little distended, they might be a little uncomfortable, and sometimes, they may even have a rash around their rear where it's kind of irritating.

Now, what about the baby that seems to be fine with formula and not so well with breast milk? Well then, the questions is, is the baby getting better suckling with the nipple . . . the formula? Is there something in the mother's food that's flavoring her breast milk? Meaning is she eating a lot more garlic, or is she eating spicy things that are getting through and the baby doesn't like the taste? And then the question is, is the mother putting anything on the nipple that the baby doesn't like the taste of? So we put all these lotions on our bodies and women put lotions and Bag Balm, which doesn't really taste very good. Bag Balm is something they put on nipples of cows when the nipples break down with nursing cattle, and so that may not taste very good.

So what are you putting on the skin and the answer is nothing, is the baby actually latching on well? So sometimes the baby has to struggle getting the whole nipple in their mouth, but it's easy to put the nipple from the bottle. There are many cultural norms about what you should and should not eat because of what goes in your breast milk, like don't eat cabbage because it will make your baby bloated. Well, unfortunately, cabbage won't make your baby bloated. It might make you bloated, but not your baby.

Of the things that they worry about, cow's milk is the first and about 2% to 3% of babies might actually be allergic to the cow's milk that their mother has in their food. And if a baby seems like it's not absorbing or is irritated by the breast milk, the question is what is it? And you have to kind of take things away. The top ones are peanut, soy, and cow's milk, but there may be other things. So moms need to eat carefully. The baby may not like garlic in their breast milk. By the way, wine goes right through the breast milk, too, so be careful.

So the long and the short of it is the baby is not allergic to your breast milk, but it can be allergic to what you're eating. There are lots of cultural superstitions about what mom should and shouldn't eat, and what should go in the breast milk. There's not much science, but if you take away one thing at a time and see if the baby does better, you might figure out what it is. And of course, your pediatrician can really help you work this out.

Announcer: Have a question? Ask it. Send your listener question to