Do Cow’s Milk Allergens Pass Through into Breast Milk?

I am baffled as to how many differing opinions I have received from medical professionals about whether or not allergens pass through into breast milk. I have spoken to a paediatrician that said the cow’s milk allergen cannot pass through into breast milk, I have spoken to paediatricians and an allergist that has supported that it can, and I have spoken to a dietician that revealed that the medical world has yet to come to a conclusion on this important topic. Well I need no further convincing on the matter, I have witnessed first-hand the effect of allergens in breast milk and this is my story.

My son has had eczema since he was around 4 months old. On hearing through my nephew’s paediatrician that breast fed babies can be sensitive to cow’s milk in the mothers diet, I omitted dairy from my diet for just less than a week. His eczema did not abate… in fact it just got worse. But my story is not yet complete.

We then discovered that he was highly allergic to cow’s milk when he was 6 months of age when he reacted to a bite of cereal containing cow’s milk. A cow’s milk allergy means that the body is over reacting specifically to a protein called casein found in cow’s milk. So with new encouragement from my ever supportive mother in law, and in a desperate effort to calm my sons raging eczema I omitted dairy strictly from my diet again, this time for a month. The resulting change in my son’s constant eczema was drastic and unquestionable… his eczema again got worse and then … it almost disappeared! His skin was smooth and soft to the touch for the first time in many months and the constant itchiness that not even steroid topical treatment could relieve was finally gone. Most importantly, I no longer had to resort to using steroids to try to offer my son relief from his eczema, and this was a huge relief to me! I then read that casein can take about a month to leave the body and so it can take this long to see any resulting change in a baby’s eczema and that symptoms can sometimes get worse before it gets better; and then it all made sense. This is, I assume, the same concept as when we detox, where the body purges toxins through our skin when we stop consuming those toxins.

During the months that followed I would consume dairy to test if he still reacted in the same way, and his eczema would always flare up. After a while I stopped testing and just resigned myself to my fate. I went strictly without any form of dairy for a whole 6 months. At 12 months we tested my son for allergies via a blood test, and he was still highly allergic to cow’s milk. But then, an allergist/paediatrician advised me that his allergy would be changing as he develops and therefore (much to my excitement) I should try to start eating dairy again, and if his reaction was not severe I should continue consuming dairy. She explained that it is important for babies with allergies to be exposed to the allergens so that they are given a chance to get over their allergies (this advice is probably not prescribed to those who have life threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis, or maybe such actions will be conducted in a more controlled environment).

I started consuming dairy and he did not react, but after two months of consuming dairy I am noticing that he is reacting to breast milk feeds with a red rash around his mouth and itchy ears. This may be because I am consuming more dairy now than when I first started including dairy back in my diet; or that casein is building up in my body and therefore concentrating in my breast milk; or that he is drinking more breast milk in one sitting because I have reduced feeds; or it could be a combination of these factors. At 16 months old my son is still allergic to cow’s milk but can consume butter with no reaction. He has reactions to breast milk feeds which clear up quickly.

Although more studies are definitely needed in this subject to better understand and help our poor little allergy sufferers, I need no further convincing that cow’s milk proteins definitely do pass through into breast milk. If you do abstain from dairy to see if it will give your little one relief from allergy symptoms, remember that it can get worse before it gets better and remember to go sufficient time without the allergen to allow the allergen to be completely flushed from the body so that the true effect can be observed. Remember also that our baby’s allergies do change and hopefully eventually disappear altogether, so do keep testing. May we all overcome our allergy challenges soon!

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