Is my 6-week-old allergic?

Dear Mamas,

I’m wondering if my baby is allergic to his formula. We adopted him at birth, so he’s still pretty new to us and we don’t know much about the family history. Can babies this young have food allergies already?

Gray seems to get an odd rash of bumps on his face after he eats. It is on his forehead in a little clump and some spots make their way behind his ear and on his neck and a few on his chest. Most are on his cheeks — there are hundreds! I have tried to pay attention to when it happens, and it is not after baby wipe use or lotion, but with feedings. The fact that it is more prominent on the left side of his face seems strange to me. He favors that side and feeds that way. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by it as far as I can tell. At least no scratching or fussiness because of it. It just looks awful.  I am convinced it isn’t baby acne because there are times when it literally is redder than others and he has had acne and that clears up within a few days. This isn’t going away. There is even a splotch that he gets near his eye and one on his eyebrow. I am attaching a picture that may help.

He is getting formula with baby cereal in the formula each time and gripe water AND Hylands all natural gas relief tablets.

Is this something you just deal with or do we have to be concerned that it starts as bumps but could progress to something more serious?

I appreciate any thoughts and opinions you may have. I looked at the ingredient list for the formula and it is kind of disgusting…………..WHY does it include corn syrup solids???!

THANK YOU!
Stacy

Dear Stacy,

This is a question that comes up frequently, so thanks for asking. Children as young as 6 weeks can develop allergies, and the photo of the rash does look suspicious, but formula may or may not be the culprit.

Most food allergies in little ones will cause a rash, but not all rashes are caused by food allergies, and some diligent detective work may be required to tell the difference.  A few questions, hints and red flags about your description: Has Gray been on the same formula since birth? Is it milk based or soy based? When did you first notice the rash?

Why are you adding baby cereal to his formula? My ballpark guess is that he’s a spitter and someone suggested cereal to thicken it and reduce spit up. While this might work, it actually increases the risk of allergies and has little benefit. Infants under 4 months can’t digest or use the nutrients in solid food and spitting up in an otherwise healthy baby isn’t a health problem, it’s a laundry problem.

Similarly, gripe water and gas tablets have limited effect and may be responsible for the rash. There are other possibilities, too, like laundry detergent or other things that come in contact with his skin, but these are lower on the probability list based on the connection with feedings.

While this isn’t an emergency and there’s time to go through a process of elimination, food allergies do tend to worsen with exposure to the item, so you can expect the rash to continue until the culprit is identified and removed from his diet.

First, have your pediatrician take a look. The rash may have a characteristic appearance in person that can’t be seen in a photo that will give you an immediate answer. If not, try eliminating the cereal, gripe water and gas tablets (the nonessentials), and wait 3-5 days for them to get completely out of his system. At that point, if the rash seems to be improving you’ll know it was one of those items. If you must, you can add them back one at a time, waiting 3-5 days between, to identify which was responsible.

If the rash continues, try switching to an alternate formula type (soy if he was previously on milk-based, or vice versa) and watch for improvement for the same 3-5 day period. If the rash persists in spite of these changes, keep going down the list of everything that goes into or onto his little body. Allergies and rashes often require the Sherlock Holmes approach, so you may need to be patient until you find your answer.

BTW, we agree about the corn syrup solids. It’s an unnecessary additive that’s almost ubiquitous in our food. Let’s not get started on the subject of how our government subsidizes corn production. Sheesh! Check out Goodstart or Earth’s Best brands for a more natural ingredient list, but wait until you’re over the hump on this allergy question.

Good Luck!
~ The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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