About 4% of adults and up to 8% of children have some reaction to food.1 With the increase in food allergies in children, 2 some pregnant or breastfeeding women are likely to worry about eating certain types of foods.
What are food allergies?
In a food allergy, your body’s defense system, called the immune system, reacts to certain foods or ingredients as if they were harmful.
What foods tend to cause allergic reactions?
The foods that most often cause allergic reactions in adults are the same in women and men. They include:
- Seafood, such as shrimp, crabs, lobsters, and freshwater lobsters
- Nuts, such as walnuts, cashews, and pecans
- Fish, such as salmon
- Soy beans
What are the symptoms of a food allergy?
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food usually appear within a few minutes and up to an hour after eating the food. Your mouth may first feel itchy when you start eating that food.
Other symptoms include:
- Itchy and stuffy nose
- Watery and irritated eyes
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of the body
- Stomach cramps
- Red and itchy skin, or a rash
If you have food allergy symptoms shortly after eating, check with your doctor or nurse. If possible, see your doctor when the allergic reaction occurs.
Can food allergies be life threatening?
It’s possible. For some people, a food allergy reaction is uncomfortable but not dangerous. However, for others, an allergic reaction to a food can cause death. A life-threatening reaction caused by an allergy is called anaphylaxis .
For these people, even minimal exposure, such as eating a food or even touching a person who is eating it, can be dangerous. If you have anaphylactic reactions to certain foods, your doctor can give you a prescription for epinephrine . injectable. You will have to carry this medication with you at all times so that you can inject it, or have someone else do it for you, in an emergency.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Hoarseness, throat tightness, or a feeling of a lump in your throat.
- Wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
- Tingling of the hands, feet, lips, or scalp
- Cold or clammy bluish or grayish skin
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms after eating a food, call 911 right away.
Should I Avoid Peanuts or Other Foods During Pregnancy or While Breastfeeding?
You don’t need to avoid foods like peanuts, milk, or eggs during pregnancy, unless you’re allergic.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: 3.4
- Avoiding certain foods during pregnancy does not prevent food allergies in children
- Breastfeeding can prevent or delay food allergies
- Soy-based infant formulas do not prevent food allergy
- Delaying solid food intake after 4 to 6 months of age does not prevent food allergies. Some people also believe that food allergies can be prevented if parents delay their babies eating certain solid foods (for example, fish, eggs, and milk). However, recent medical research does not support this idea.
- Recent research has shown that eating peanut-containing foods early in life can prevent a peanut allergy. If your baby has severe eczema, an egg allergy, or both, you can give him foods that contain peanuts from 4 to 6 months to prevent a peanut allergy.5 Check with your doctor or nurse before feeding foods that contain peanuts to your baby.
Can a baby be allergic to breast milk?
No. However, sometimes babies can be allergic to something their mother eats, such as eggs, milk, or cheese. Babies who are very sensitive usually react to food in a matter of minutes. Babies who are less sensitive can react to food within four to 24 hours.
Symptoms can include:
- Diarrhea, vomiting and / or green stool with mucus and / or blood
- Rash, eczema, dermatitis , hives , or dry skin
- Irritability during and / or after feeding
- Inconsolable crying for prolonged periods
- You wake up suddenly feeling unwell
- Wheezing or coughing
These symptoms do not mean that your baby is allergic to milk, but to something you are eating. Talk to your baby’s doctor about any symptoms. If your baby ever has trouble breathing, call 911 or take him to the nearest emergency room.
Learn more in our Breastfeeding and Daily Life section.