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Podcast: Ep 27 - Breastfeeding ... and allergies - Part 2

Amelia's story of breastfeeding a child with allergies

Jessica chats with Amelia, who shares her story of breastfeeding a child with multiple allergies. 

A photo of a person and a baby walking hand in hand.

Podcast episode

Part 1 of this episode

Joy Anderson talks with Emma about how dieticians help families try and find out whether there's an issue with allergies or intolerances in a breastfed baby. This episode includes information about symptoms, elimination diets, food challenges and how to get help and support.

Podcast information

Show notes
Amelia's story of breastfeeding a child with allergies

Jessica chats with Amelia, who shares her story of breastfeeding a child with multiple allergies. 

Links to resources and information discussed in this episode:

Listen to part 1 here:…

Credits: This episode is presented by Jessica Leonard. Featuring Amelia. Special thanks to Joy Anderson. Audio editing by Jessica Leonard. Additional reporting by Emma Pennell. Show notes by Belinda Chambers. Transcription by Jessica Leonard. Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

Episode transcript

AMELIA: You learn a lot. You learn a lot about yourself, about food, about health, and it's really important to just reach out and get support and even have that person that you can vent to and someone that will listen. Because it is, it's difficult.

JESSICA: Welcome to Breastfeeding with ABA, a podcast about breastfeeding that's made by parents for parents. In this episode of Breastfeeding with ABA, Amelia will be sharing her story of breastfeeding a child with multiple allergies. This is part two of two episodes on allergies, and you can also listen to part one. Now, my name is Jessica and I'm a breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and a mother of two children aged 16 and 13.

I'm speaking from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I'm speaking and you're listening and pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging. I'd also like to acknowledge the long history of oral storytelling on this country and of women supporting each other to learn to feed their babies.

AMELIA: My name's Amelia and I live on Yorta Yorta country in northern Victoria along the Murray River, and I'm from a little town called Numurkah, originally from Melbourne, and I'm the mother of two boys, now nine and 11.

JESSICA: So like a lot of mums, Amelia always knew she wanted to breastfeed.

AMELIA: I really enjoyed breastfeeding and I knew that I always wanted to breastfeed. It was very important. I've always been very health conscious and I knew the health benefits of breastfeeding, so it was an exciting time to be able to breastfeed my children.

JESSICA: Amelia's family has a history of allergies, so it wasn't a surprise to her when both of her kids started showing signs that they had allergies too.

AMELIA: So allergies have always been in my family. I am allergic to peanuts myself and I have lots of other food intolerances, dairy, soy and legumes.

JESSICA: The difference between allergies and intolerances can be confusing. So here's an explanation from Joy Anderson from part one of this episode about the difference between the two.

JOY: An allergy is, by definition, it's an adverse reaction that's caused by the body's own immune system reacting to something that is otherwise really harmless. There's two types, there’s the IgE mediated or antibody mediated type allergies, and these are the ones that people worry mostly about because they have a potential to cause anaphylaxis so they actually can be life threatening.

Having said that, when it's in a breastfed baby and the allergen is coming through the mother's milk, it's extremely unlikely that a baby would have anaphylaxis. You can test for these allergies, and doctors often do these these IgE tests, whether a skin prick test or there's a blood test. Even then, they're not 100% accurate and they're really sort of mainly a good guide if it comes up as positive for an allergy.
To me that means this is medical. You know, the mother needs to consult with an allergist or an immunologist. The other sort is the non-IgE mediated. Sometimes It's called a cell mediated allergy. It's still an allergy and it's still the immune system, but it doesn't use the antibodies, so you can't test for it. You can only do elimination diets and challenges. It's not as dangerous.

It tends to be more delayed. With an antibody mediated allergy, if you eat the food directly, you're likely to have a very quick reaction to it. Not necessarily happens with a breastfed baby, but with a non-IgE mediated allergy, even if you eat something directly and you have this sort of allergy, it's fairly delayed, the effects. So the sort of symptoms you get with a non-IgE mediated allergy are similar to food intolerances you can get in a baby.

You could get unusual bowel motions, different colours and textures and sometimes even blood in them. You can get gut symptoms like reflux, colic and skin symptoms, eczema and rashes and things like that. Whereas with an intolerance, this is again, we sort of go back to medical definitions. That's an adverse reaction that does not involve the immune system and it's quite wide ranging, the types of intolerances that people can experience.

My experience with babies is the most common type of intolerant tolerance is to food chemicals in just normal foods, as well as artificial additives and things like that. But they can actually have intolerance type symptoms to whole foods like dairy and soy and wheat. It's very hard to know with babies, whether it's a non-IgE mediated allergy when it's one of those whole foods or whether it's an intolerance.

I think it's rather academic. We don't go, sort of going, ’well, let's have a test to see if it's the immune system’. It really doesn't matter. All we need to know is that this baby is having a reaction to these foods and we do something about that. 

JESSICA: Allergies and intolerances can show up in babies in lots of different ways. But for Amelia, the signs came very early on and were quite extreme.

AMELIA: With my second son, it was pretty clear as soon as he was born he was very small. He had lots of eczema, he had puffy eyes and face. And there were early on, like within the first week or so of him being born, times where he wasn't breathing and he was blue and he was floppy. And so I definitely knew there was something wrong.

He wanted to feed all the time and he had lots of runny poos, like he would poo 20 times a day. And he vomited a lot like projectile vomiting, projectile diarrhea. So he didn't gain much weight at all. He was always... he was very little. He was a slow grower. He wasn't on like the smallest percentile of weight gain. But yeah, he was a lot smaller. My first son was like one of those big chubby babies. So, he wasn't like that. He seemed very small to me. It was clear that there was something very serious going on there. I did a lot of research myself to begin with being, you know, having lots of sleepless nights and a phone in my hand.

So I immediately cut things out myself. I did take him to the hospital and they kind of weren't really sure what was going on. They use terms like colic and reflux and but I definitely I knew that there was something more going on. Because he was under one they wouldn't do all the allergy testing and that sort of thing.

But they did put him on a list to have that investigated at the Children's Hospital. So in the meantime, it was really all up to me to make sure that, you know, he was safe. And that meant trying to work out what it was in my diet that was triggering his allergies through being breastfed.

JESSICA: So what did you eliminate from your diet?

AMELIA: At first it was top ten allergens or top eight or something. Dairy, wheat, seafood, shellfish, eggs, soy gluten, kiwifruit. Pineapples, strawberries, corn. I think a lot of things.

JESSICA: So what happened next in terms of diagnosis for him?

AMELIA: I had to reintroduce one food at a time and then wait a week to see how that how he responded to that. And that took a very long time. It it took almost until he was 12 months old. And then I had a fair idea that it was dairy, eggs and soy and citrus, definitely. So I sort of had that.

But then I could go to that first appointment with the Children's Hospital with and say, ’look, I've done the preparation, this is what I think it is’. And then they did the skin prick testing.

JESSICA: And what was the result of the skin prick test?

AMELIA: Everything that I had come to the conclusion of basically was, yeah, it all lined up. He had a severe dairy allergy and a severe egg allergy and the soy didn't come up as an anaphylactic allergy. But I suppose through going by his digestive and skin reactions, always being two days after having the soy, they concluded that it was a, oh there's two types of allergies there's yeah, non-IgE allergy so that's what the soy was. But you can never be certain. There's no way of telling apart from just monitoring the food intake and then the reaction.

JESSICA: So tell me a bit about: you were on quite a restricted diet while you slowly reintroduce one food at a time. So one allergen at a time under medical supervision, but what was that like for you? Like emotionally.

AMELIA: I think the fear, the anxiety and the motivation and the adrenaline of it all is like one part, but there were other,, there’s obviously the part of grief like, ‘oh my God, this is my baby!’ I'm the one now that has the baby with all the allergies and that's not fair. So, yeah, you know, a lot of poor me, why me, like this is so hard? And actually my life was really hard at the time, so I was dealing with a lot in my world and it was just like, oh, another thing. Like another thing that takes up brain space because you’re constantly thinking and planning for that. That’s really exhausting and depleting, really everything was, you know, I was always on high alert.

So when I did get a chance, you know, when baby was asleep and I had some time on my own, it was just pure exhaustion. And it was isolating too, because all the things that I did with my first baby to connect with other women I wasn’t doing, because it was too hard with the food. Because everywhere you go with mums and babies, there’s cakes and coffee and tea and and as he got more mobile that made it really difficult because there was food everywhere and there were other babies with food all over them.

And so yeah, I think I was socially isolated too and I didn’t feel I had a huge amount of support from the medical field because I had been told to wait until he was one to do allergy testing. So I was really just, you know, alone, alone and and I already felt alone in a lot of my life.

So and that’s where the ABA was amazing, because I had technology as a tool to connect with other women who understood and empathised. And it just was an amazing cheer squad. Luckily, I did have a good friend, Adelle, who her baby had almost identical allergies too. So we were able to catch up and provide a safe space where they could play and no one was going to have an allergic reaction.

So when we could do that, we did, and that was good. But honestly, it felt like no one's baby had allergies and it was just me. And everywhere you go, people are just, you know, throwing food around everywhere. So it was hard.

JESSICA: And what was introducing solids like?

AMELIA: He was really slow. On having solids. He definitely preferred breastfeeding. He was, yeah. It was the one that was always on the boob, thank goodness, because there weren't a lot of solids that they recommend giving him. And he was, he was a very active baby, too, so he was stubborn and independent and active. And getting I couldn't give him any pureed stuff, so we did baby led solids and I mean, it was mostly things off my plate, but he loved meat, like he just loved meat, a bone with some meat on it.

And I think it's because he had the dairy and egg allergy, so he probably just really craved that protein.

JESSICA: So what are his allergies like now?

AMELIA: So he has no allergies now. None. And it was through exposure therapy and desensitizing through the Children's Hospital that this, you know, has happened. So first of all, it was eggs. So we did challenges and he grew out of eggs when he was about, I think, seven, seven or eight. And then dairy was just really late last year, I think.

So that took a bit longer. I honestly thought he would be allergic to dairy, because he always had such severe reactions. When we challenged it last week, he had his first pizza with cheese on it and he said, Oh my gosh, mum, the cheese holds everything together and he doesn't really like dairy, but he likes it and he can have it.

All the foods that he's been allergic to, he doesn't particularly like that much and he's used to the diet that he's grown up on, but it's good that he can have them and he doesn't feel left out anymore. And that was a big one for him because not only was it socially isolating for me as a parent, but for him as a child, very socially isolating, too.

Birthday parties are the worst because there's always cake and he's always allergic to cake. So I would always have to make sure that it was a separate little cake for him, which is great. But my, you know, they don't want to be different to the other kids and these things they're definitely challenging and it's definitely a journey. But it does build resilience and it does… you learn a lot, and a lot about yourself, about food, about health.

And it's really important to just reach out and get support and even have that person that you can vent to and someone that will listen because it is it's difficult. Yeah.

JESSICA: So what advice would you give to other people who might be in the same situation that you found yourself in?

AMELIA: Trust your gut. If you think there's something wrong, there probably is. Do your research. It's worth being able to, I suppose. For me it was formula wasn't an option because of the allergies and then that that meant that I had to then cut those things out of my diet, which was pretty hard. But I had the motivation there because I really wanted to breastfeed and I didn't want him getting sick. But at the same time, like it made me healthy, and it was just I just had to eat healthy foods, which was… there was benefits.

In the end, it wasn't all that hard, aside from the physical food intake and reactions, there's a lot of anxiety around food and people not understanding. And I suppose just acknowledging that that's a thing, that anxiety around allergies does exist and that's okay. I think like it can be done. It can be done and being supported by people that understood and that knew about allergies, about breastfeeding and having friends that were in similar situations as to me as well, where you can share the journey is super important.

JESSICA: Thanks so much to Amelia for speaking with me today and to Joy Anderson for the extra information in this episode and part one of this episode. For more information on this topic, you can go to our website at or to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 180068626 and you can also use our live chat service on pop on the website to find out the current operating times. If you're in a position to support what we do financially, you can become a member at We’d love it if you can rate, review and subscribe to our podcast wherever you're listening.


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