Many mamas worry that what they eat may affect their breastmilk, and thus their baby–you’re not alone! And, this is true, gluten in breastmilk may affect your baby. The consumption of gluten can affect your breastmilk. The portion of gluten that passes through to breastmilk is called gliadin. It is the component of gluten that causes celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Many of the nutrients in the food you eat pass through the lining of your small intestine into your blood. Milk production occurs when the alveoli cells in your breasts take proteins, sugars, and fats from your blood supply and make breast milk.
An article published in the Scandinavian pediatric journal reported on gluten passing through to breastmilk. A study was performed on whether gliadin was passed into the breast milk of lactating mothers. Breastfeeding mothers were given 20 grams of gluten. Their samples were then analyzed for the presence of gluten. Peak levels of gliadin were identified 2-4 hours after the ingestion of gluten.
What Effect Does Gliadin Have On Your Baby?
What’s less well known is the actual effect of gliadin on the baby because there’s little human research available. In studies on animals, it has been shown to have a protective effect, or help the child build up a tolerance to gluten. So this may indicate that a child that is at risk for celiac disease may be protected by being breastfed by a mother who eats a normal diet (including gluten) because of the exposure. According to this study, we can assume that low levels of gluten are responsible for the induction of oral tolerance to gluten.
The Role of IgA
The immunoglobin IgA, which is an important antibody passed to your baby through your breastmilk, is found in the walls of the intestine. IgA plays a large role in the prevention of allergies. IgA in the intestine attaches to undigested food molecules and prevents them from passing through the intestinal wall (Mother Food, Hilary Jacobson). If a baby has low levels of IgA, they may be more likely to develop allergies. A mother’s milk contains IgA, and your baby that is consuming your breastmilk will develop more settling of this antibody in the intestines over time. Until then, a baby’s digestive system is considered “immature”.
Without this important antibody, your baby cannot protect himself against undigested food molecules, including those that are passed into your breastmilk. IgA is found to be lower in the breastmilk of babies that have allergies. Normal levels of IgA are ideal to provide as much protection as possible. A diet full of whole foods, including important healthy fats, is one way to help ensure optimal levels of IgA. You can read more about breastfeeding nutrition in my post here- Lactogenic Foods to Increase Milk Supply.
Signs Your Baby May Have an Allergy or Intolerance
Keep an eye on your baby for signs of discomfort or other symptoms. According to La Leche League, substances in human milk coat your baby’s intestines, which prevents microscopic food particles from “leaking” through into your baby’s bloodstream. If they do pass into the blood, these food particles may be treated as foreign substances by your baby’s white blood cells, which attack them and can cause painful allergic reactions.
Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there’s a history of eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergies in the family. If your baby has a family history of these conditions, breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months will help to lower their risk. However, if there are allergies on either side of your family, it may be beneficial to avoid those foods while you are breastfeeding or at least for the first six months of their life. Watch your baby closely for symptoms, and use your mama instincts.
Symptoms of a Food Allergy in Your Baby
- Sore bottom
- Diaper rash
- Runny nose
- Weeping eyes
- Body rash
- Excessive crying, inconsolable
- Sleepless Baby
- Overly fussy
- Excessively gassy without relief
If you suspect your baby might be sensitive to a particular food, you can test it by eating that food again. If eating the same food leads to the same symptoms, try avoiding that food for a few weeks. It is possible for your baby to be sensitive to certain foods you eat. It typically takes at least 4 hours for the food you consume to make it into your milk. If your baby becomes unusually fussy or gassy, think about what you ate earlier that day.
The Importance of Reintroducing Foods
You can try reintroducing that food into your diet as your baby gets a little older. Your baby may be able to tolerate it a little better as their digestive system matures. Don’t just eliminate foods without keeping a food journal and really testing it. We know that the wider the variety of foods that you eat while breastfeeding, the less picky your child will probably be when your baby starts eating solid foods because of the exposure of foods and flavors in breastmilk.
A study was performed on breastfeeding mothers who were consuming garlic capsules, and breastfeeding mothers that were not. The babies actually preferred the milk that was garlic-flavored and spent more time at the breast.
Common Food Allergens
Other common allergens include dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy. If you suspect your baby is allergic to something you are eating, try cutting these out of your diet, one at a time, and see if your baby’s health improves.
If your baby is sensitive to a particular food, you can test it by eating that food again. When eating the same food leads to the same symptoms, try avoiding that food for a few weeks. You can then try reintroducing that food into your diet as your baby gets a little older. Your baby may be able to tolerate it a little better as their digestive system matures.
Avoid eliminating foods without testing them. Keep a food journal and really test it. The wider the variety of foods that you eat while breastfeeding, the less picky your child will probably be when your baby starts eating solid foods because of the exposure of foods and flavors in breastmilk.
Tips for Introducing Allergen-Potential Foods
- Pick a time when you’re able to keep an eye on your baby for any reactions. Introduce small amounts of the food and monitor your baby closely for any adverse reactions.
- After you introduce the food, repeat it. Ideally, 2-7 times per week over a few months show the best results to prevent reactions.
- Introduce foods at 6 months of age through 11 months of age–that is the time when food proteins can affect them. This is the age they begin to develop positive or negative reactions.
- Start with a lower amount of gluten, or whatever common allergen, and gradually increase it.
Focus on Nutrients
We know that gluten affects the gut of the breastfeeding mother and gluten in breastmilk, especially if there’s an intolerance or allergy. A healthy gut and microbiome support a healthy immune system. So the healthier a breastfeeding mom is, especially in terms of her diet, the less risk of infections like mastitis. These nutrients will also help promote a higher level of IgA in breastmilk.
Lactogenic foods, foods that are thought to increase supply will be based on individualized results. Some moms experience great benefits by including more in their diet, while other moms don’t. In general, I recommend eating a diet rich in whole foods and staying hydrated. I tell moms to focus on the nutrients in the foods that you are eating–is it high in nutrients or low in nutrients.
Generally speaking, processed foods are lacking in nutrients. You’ll want to focus on getting these key nutrients for an optimal and healthy milk supply:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3 and 6 Fats
Gluten-Free Healthy Snack Ideas
A few snack ideas: nutrition bars like Lara bars and Rx bars that are made with only whole, real foods. Here are other great snack ideas:
- Nuts/trail mix
- Fruits and vegetables with hummus or another type of dip
- Peanut or almond butter and celery/apples
- Cheese and olives, crackers like mary’s gone crackers
- Yogurt with low sugar
- Lactation “cookies” with flaxseed and brewer’s yeast
- Chia seed pudding