Baby Allergic Reaction: Rashes, Food Triggers, Hives, And More

Is My Baby Having An Allergic Reaction? How To Tell (And What To Do)

December 8, 2020 Updated July 15, 2021

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Gabriel Crismariu/Unsplash

If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction before — whether it was to a certain food or a new facial moisturizer — then you know that it’s annoying and uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst. It’s really unsettling to see something unusual happen to our bodies! Multiply that fear by infinity, and that can be what it feels like for a new parent to see their baby have an allergic reaction to something. No one wants to see their sweet child covered in hives or a rash, or experiencing any of the other symptoms of an allergic reaction. But unfortunately, when it comes to allergies in babies, it’s frequently a case of not knowing about one until seeing a baby allergic reaction. To help you be prepared, here’s what to know about this scary scenario, including causes (such as food allergies) and possible reactions (such as rashes or hives).

Looking for more motherly advice that isn’t from your mother? We have helpful tips on baby dry scalpdry baby skin, and treating watery baby eyes

What are some of the most common allergies in babies?

Like in adults, allergic reactions in babies are caused when their little body has a negative reaction to a usually harmless food or substance. At this point, scientists still don’t quite know why some kids have reactions to foods, medicines, and environmental triggers, while others don’t. Fortunately, we do know which allergies are most common in babies (broken down by category):

Food and Medicine

Some of the most common food allergies in babies in the United States include:

Although many parents are concerned that their baby might be allergic to bananas, severe allergic reactions to the fruit are relatively rare. However, there is a connection between latex allergies and banana allergies to be aware of.

Environmental

Babies can also have allergic reactions to environmental triggers — some of which are seasonal (like adults’ allergies). Examples include:

  • pet dander, such as from a house cat or dog
  • plant-based allergens
  • mold
  • dust mites, which can be found in mattresses or bed linen
  • household cleaners
  • detergent
  • soaps and shampoos

Heat Rash

It is incredibly common for babies to get heat rashes — that’s the not-so-fun news. The better news is that while these rashes look disturbing, they’re typically not something to worry about. So, why are babies so prone to heat rash? Unlike adults, babies aren’t able to remove layers of clothing if they’re too hot or lower the thermostat if they’re uncomfortable, and their bodies aren’t great at regulating their temperature yet. Plus, they tend to have plenty of skin folds where sweat can gather (like their neck or groin area). In addition to a rash that is reddish in color, allergic reactions to heat in babies can also cause tiny pin-sized blisters on large areas of their skin, as well as making their skin feel warm or hot to the touch.

What are the symptoms of allergic reactions in babies?

When it comes to spotting allergies in babies, there are a few signs and symptoms to keep an eye on, including those that cause a reaction on a baby’s skin or to their respiratory or digestive systems. And while there’s overlap between the symptoms for food and medicine allergies and those to the environment, there are some important distinctions.

Food and Medicine

Symptoms of food and medicine allergies in babies include:

  • rash (including on their belly)
  • hives
  • itching
  • swelling of the tongue and/or lips
  • wheezing or shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • blood in their stool
  • pale skin

Environmental

Some of the symptoms of environmental and/or seasonal allergies in babies include:

  • rash
  • hives
  • sneezing
  • red, itchy, and/or watery eyes
  • coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness
  • runny nose

Baby skin allergy home remedies

Your baby is new to this whole life thing, so there’s no way to know what they’re allergic to. But in the event your kiddo breaks out, here are some home remedies (with an OK from your doctor), that you can use to restore your baby’s skin.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal isn’t just for eating. You can create a warm bath out of it and rub it on the affected area. You can also make a paste out of it by adding water.

Baking soda

Baking soda is an anti-inflammatory and mixed with water or coconut oil, it can be an itch relieving paste. You can also turn it into a warm bath by pouring in a cup of baking soda. Let your child sit in the tub for about 15 minutes. After they soak, make sure they rinse off.

Coconut oil

Virgin or unprocessed coconut oil is rich in saturated fats and anti-inflammatory properties. Coconut oil is typically used to moisturize irritated skin and reduce swelling.

Aloe vera

This prickly plant has been helping reduce infection and swelling for decades. So, if your kiddo is struggling with a rash, aloe can calm down their itching and inflammation. It can also reduce redness.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a natural sanitizer that fights fine bumps and acne. You don’t need much and it’s a great remedy for managing breakouts. 

Tea leaves

Tea leaves aren’t just for hot beverages. Boil some water and pour it over your peppermint, chamomile, or green tea leaves. Let the water cool down before you run it over your child’s irritated skin. You can also pour a little into their bath. 

What is anaphylaxis?

Though anaphylaxis can potentially be fatal, it is rare in babies and is almost always a reaction to a cow’s milk protein allergy. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, anaphylaxis is defined as a “serious allergic response that often involves swelling, hives, lowered blood pressure and, in severe cases, shock.”

Unlike other allergic reactions, anaphylaxis typically involves more than one system of the body. Symptoms usually develop within five to 30 minutes of contact with the allergen, although symptoms may not present for more than an hour. Symptoms include:

  • Red rash (usually itchy, possibly with hives)
  • Swelling of the throat or other areas of the body
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness/light-headedness or passing out
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Hoarseness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Trouble breathing and/or swallowing

Anaphylaxis should always be treated as a medical emergency. If you determine your baby has allergies, be prepared by having an action plan and always carrying auto-injectible epinephrine.

What do food allergies in breastfed babies look like?

If you’re nursing, your baby can let you know what they’re allergic to before they’re directly exposed to any foods or liquids. Much like when you were pregnant, when nursing, what you eat affects the baby as well. Keep in mind most babies are generally cool with whatever mamas consume while breastfeeding, but if your baby is showing discomfort or gassiness after feedings, it’s worth looking into. Each baby’s sensitivity levels are different. Cow milk is usually the most common culprit, which may leave your baby inconsolable. Common signs of an allergic reaction also include wheezing, congestion, itchy eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea.