For most children, food intolerance begins with an intolerance to milk or soy in their first few months. As the child gets older and tries new foods, it’s possible food intolerance, especially common ones like eggs, milk, fish, gluten and peanuts, could arise.

It’s important to understand that food protein intolerance can begin to show up while a baby is breastfeeding, before the baby starts eating food independently. This happens because food proteins can pass through breast milk.

Many people confuse food intolerance with food allergies. Food allergies occur when the proteins in a food trigger an immune system response to produce antibodies against the offending food, much like occurs after infection with a common cold.  When you ingest the food, the body goes into attack mode and you can become very ill. A food intolerance results when the body incompletely breaks down food proteins, resulting in gastrointestinal problems but no immune system response. In the case of a food intolerance, the child is often lacking an enzyme needed to break down and digest certain proteins that are found in multiple foods. Symptoms of food intolerance:

A food intolerance results when the body incompletely breaks down food proteins, resulting in gastrointestinal problems but no immune system response.

  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

A food allergy will be triggered every time the offending food is eaten, even if it’s a very small amount. With a food intolerance, however, symptoms may only occur if your child eats too much of the offending foods. This extends into breastfeeding: nursing moms might notice that baby only gets fussy after overeating, but can handle smaller amounts of the offending food with no problem.

If you suspect certain foods may be causing your baby distress, discuss it with your doctor, who can help you design an elimination diet to pinpoint the offending foods so you can avoid them for your child and for yourself if necessary. If you are not breastfeeding, your doctor may recommend a hypoallergenic baby formula for your child.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019

Takeaways

  • Food  intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme that breaks down proteins in certain foods; the most common example being lactose intolerance.
  • This can occur even in infants if the mother is breastfeeding and eating trigger foods.
  • The intolerance may only be triggered if too much of the offending food is eaten.
  • Your doctor may recommend a hypoallergenic formula for your baby.

References

  1. MedScape. Protein Intolerance Clinical Presentation 
  2. The PIC Foundation
  3. American College of Gastroenterology. Food Intolerance. 
  4. PubMed. Challenge Confirmation of Late-Onset Reactions to Extensively Hydrolyzed Formulas in Infants with Multiple Food Protein Intolerance.

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