Food Allergies

Topics/Articles Covered on This Page:
  • Food Allergy Symptoms
  • Food Allergies & Breastfeeding


A food allergy or sensitivity can cause any symptom in the body; however there are some symptoms commonly caused by food allergies or sensitivities.

It is important to note that the same food may cause different symptoms at different ages, or stages of life. For example, a food allergy reaction could progress like this: an infant who "had reflux" (vomited and spit up a lot - actually a food reaction, not reflux) and was sleepless could turn into a toddler who has recurring ear infections (caused by the same food sensitivity), and grow into a child who is aggressive or has dark circles under his eyes, and the symptoms manifesting could change yet again in adolescence and adulthood.

Symptom groups can be common in different age groups. Such as, allergic infants often have symptoms of: sleeplessness, vomiting or spitting up, eczema, abdominal pain and gas, and/or diarrhea. But, they rarely have post-nasal drip or asthma.

Different foods can cause different symptoms. For example, when my son gets any type of milk (casein or whey) he will vomit, scream, and be absolutely miserable in pain for awhile, when he eats tomato-based products, he will not sleep at night. And the lines or wrinkles under his eyes give me an indication for the overall inflammatory response (caused by allergy and toxicity) in his body. One line, not very swollen = going good. Three lines with swelling = not doing good at all, need to decrease the load and quickly!

Food Allergy Symptoms By Body System:

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a basic overview of some of the most common symptoms.

Respiratory System
Wheezing or asthma, coughs, frequent colds, mouth breathing, post nasal drip, stuffy nose, shortness of breath, rattling sounds in chest

Digestive System
Heartburn, gas, indigestion, nausea, food cravings, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain

Central Nervous System
Anxiety, dizzy spells, nervousness, learning problems and disorders, memory problems, mental dullness, mood swings, insomnia, headaches/migraines, sleepiness, anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity, restlessness, fatigue, anger/tantrums/aggression, inability to concentrate, depression, crying, dizziness, imbalance, hypersensitivity to noise, bed-wetting, convulsions and tics

Eczema, acne, dark circles under or around the eyes, wrinkles or lines under the eyes, bags under eyes, swelling under eyes, blisters, hives, itching, psoriasis, red cheeks, red ears, canker sores

 Structural System
Muscle or joint pain, joint tightness

 Circulatory System
High or low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, irregular heart beat

Recurring ear infections, itching or popping ears


This is a sorely neglected and critically important topic that I found difficult to obtain information on when I needed it. So, hopefully I can provide some help, answers, and hope. If I don’t include answers to the questions you have, please comment and ask.


Yes, a baby can react to substances IN the mother’s milk. I’ve heard many stories of doctors telling mothers that the baby is allergic to the breast milk and to put the baby on formula. However, it is much more likely that the baby is allergic to something IN the milk and not the milk itself. So before jumping ship and switching to formula, look into possible allergens. Nearly all formulas are based on the most common allergens, so if your baby happens to have a sensitivity to multiple things and it includes those common foods (as my baby was and did), it may be difficult to impossible to find a formula that your baby won’t react to, not to mention the health benefits of breastfeeding.


The most likely culprits for things in breast milk that a baby would react to are things in mom’s diet, particularly, dairy and soy. The next most likely: corn, wheat, eggs, and nuts. And, it could be any one of these, something else entirely, and even multiple things. For my son it was dairy, soy, beans (including green beans), oats, peanuts, and beef. Dairy and soy he would react to the smallest trace amounts. That meant avoiding milk, butter, ice cream, cheese, sour cream, etc and for us, even baked goods and things like graham crackers because of the trace amounts of dairy in them. If I messed up and missed a dairy ingredient when I was reading labels, I was up all night with my screaming, vomiting, pain-filled son. Soy included soybean oil, which is used in a vast amount of processed/packaged foods.

 Generally, it can take up to 2 weeks for dairy to clear out of the system. That means, once you remove it from your diet, it may take 2 weeks before the majority of it is out of your body, and it could take another 2 weeks for it to be out of baby’s body too. But, you should be able to tell within two weeks of removing it whether your baby is sensitive to it or not. For my son, it made a difference within 24 hours. In time, I learned that from the time I ate dairy to the time it was in my milk and affected him was about 16-19 hours, wherever his feeding fell within that timeframe; and it would last for a couple of feedings. Different foods had different time frames.


If you remove the basic allergens from your diet and your baby is still miserable, making you miserable too, keep a food journal to record what foods you eat and how your baby is doing. It can be tedious and takes work, but it’s worth it when you figure it out! Be specific: a red lollipop, a strawberry fruit roll up, red velvet cake with cream cheese. Baby happy, baby tired, baby screaming, baby had projectile spit up (vomited). If your child is screaming several hours at a stretch, vomiting, poop turns green, etc look for what the foods you ate had in common or what you ate recurrently a certain number of hours before the screaming (or projectile spitting up, etc) began. In my example, be cautious of red food dye. Avoid it for a few days and then add it back in and see what happens.

Where it gets complicated is with multiple sensitivities. You suspect dairy, so you remove it and replace the milk on your cereal with soy milk. But, if your baby happens to be sensitive to both soy and dairy, you may not see any changes, minimal changes, or it may even get worse if the child is more sensitive to soy than to dairy. This can lead you to think that there is no problem with dairy (since you didn’t see a change) and rule it out, when in fact dairy AND soy may be an issue. You may need to remove several things all at once, wait two weeks, and then add them in one by one (separated by a few days each) to rule out any sensitivities.

When eliminating things from your diet, also be aware of what you are ADDING to your diet, like with the soy milk in the example above. I learned this when I eliminated cow’s milk for a few days. The day I eliminated it was the first night my son slept at night and didn’t scream for hours on end, this lasted a few days until I tried soy milk, the screaming started that night again. I eliminated both cow and soy milk and the screaming stopped. A few days later my son started screaming at night again. I was befuddled. What happened? I looked at what my new breakfast was – pop tarts. Way down on the ingredient list…soybean oil. It had taken a few days for the minor amount of soybean oil to add up to be enough for him to react to, but when I stopped eating them, he stopped screaming through the night. I used this process of elimination to figure out the things he was reacting to that came to him through my breast milk. At eight months old, when I finally figured out that he was sensitive to beef (the last allergen I figured out), he completely stopped spitting up. Even though he had been a happy baby for several months by then, it was nice to pack away the burp cloths littering the house.

Dairy, soy, peanuts, and beans all had a definite reaction and time frame in which that reaction took place, but oats and beef did not they caused more nebulous issues such as general fussiness and spitting up and that didn’t correlate with a specific time frame after consumption. I include this just to say, be aware that different people will react in different ways and the same person can react to different things in various ways (a reaction may not look the same for each food sensitivity).


If you are struggling to figure it out or simply getting discouraged. Where I first found help was through a phone call to Le Leche League. The lady I talked to was the first to mention that it could be something IN my milk causing the problem and gave me some pointers for eliminating things and for comforting/soothing baby.