There are many benefits nursing can bring, such as a special bond with your newborn and a boost to his immune system. However, for a few women, the very act of breastfeeding can put their own health at risk,as it's possible that nursing can trigger mild allergy symptoms or even a serious anaphylaxis reaction.

No one knows exactly why some mothers are allergic to breastfeeding. It's believed that the prolactin and oxytocin hormones that a women's body produces for lactation can cause her immune system to over-respond shortly after breastfeeding.

Signs that You Could Be Allergic to Breastfeeding

When an allergy to breastfeeding occurs and is mild, the symptoms, which can occur on any part of your body, can include:

  • Swelling
  • Hives

The good news is that in most cases, a woman's reaction won't progress beyond these basic symptoms. However, there have been a few documented instances when an allergy to breastfeeding has become life threatening.

Some of the typical signs of anaphylactic shock include:

  • A rapid drop in blood pressure
  • Swelling of your mouth, tongue and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Things to Consider

Although the possibility of being allergic to breastfeeding can be scary, it's important to remember that the possibility of experiencing a serious reaction is quite slim.

If you believe that you're allergic to breastfeeding, it's important to look at all the possibilities that exist and rule out any other causes of your symptoms before narrowing in on this one. Allergies to food and medications used during labor must be explored, since these would be more likely than a breastfeeding allergy. But if your doctor can't find any other explanation, it's certainly possible that you could be allergic to nursing.

If you have a mild allergy to breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about taking an antihistamine and corticosteroids to head off the reaction before you feed your baby.  If your doctor believes there's any risk that a more serious reaction could occur, he'll probably want you to have an epi pen (injectable epinephrine) on hand. Or, he may recommend you skip breastfeeding entirely and bottle feed your baby instead.


Obstetrics & Gynecology

Australian Breastfeeding Association