Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Nursing mothers often ask if the food they eat might be what is triggering their baby’s fussiness, digestive discomfort, and allergies. The answer is a cautious yesquite possibly.

We know that during pregnancy, large molecules from food can pass from a mother’s intestine into her bloodstream and reach the baby in the womb.

These molecules do not belong in the womb. Naturally, they trigger a defensive immune reaction in the baby, pre-conditioning the baby to launch another immune reaction when they encounter these same food molecules in their mother’s milk. 

Leaky Gut and Prenatal Exposure

 Please note: whole food molecules are not supposed to be present in the bloodstream or in the womb. They are supposed to be broken into their smallest components while in the intestine – into amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins – before being allowed into the body.

 When food molecules leak into the bloodstream, it is a sign that the intestinal lining is damaged, is perforated with tiny holes that allow these larger molecules to pass through.

A permeable intestine also called a “leaky gut,” is sadly not rare. Many of us have a permeable intestine to some extent because of the foods we eat, the medications we take and the toxins we are exposed to. This means that many of our babies are exposed to food molecules while in the womb.

Researchers believe that prenatal exposure to food molecules may be a major cause of infant colic and allergy. They believe that this exposure pre-conditions unborn babies to respond with inflammation when they encounter these same food molecules later on in their mother’s milk. This is particularly the case if there is a history of allergy or autoimmune disease in the family.

A study from 2016 affirms this association. Researchers looked at the amniotic fluid from several mothers mid-pregnancy and were able to identify ten major food allergens in the fluid, including cow’s milk, fruit, egg, fish, nuts, and wheat.1 This means that these babies were being preconditioned to respond with inflammation to these foods–and indeed, that colicky babies are in a state of mild “systemic inflammation.”7


Inflammation, Flora, Colic

Inflammation can show up in different ways in a baby. It can show up as insomnia, wheezing, rashes, eczema, fussiness, restlessness and unhappiness, and also infant colic: the severe digestive pain that repeats nearly every day in about 20% of babies, starting at 2-3 weeks after childbirth and resolving at between 3-4 months of age.

Decades ago, infant colic was a medical mystery. Even today, many pediatricians, MDs, and pediatric nurses are not up-to-date on the research and do not know the causes or best treatments for infant colic. Because it is fairly common (20-40% of all babies worldwide) infant colic has been normalized. Instead of receiving useful information, parents are often patted on the back and assured that colic is normal and will pass.

Another area of research has looked into the intestinal flora of colicky and non-colicky infants. It turns out that the intestinal flora of colicky babies is colonized by fewer strains of helpful bacteria and yeasts compared to the flora of non-colicky infants. The “depleted” flora of colicky babies makes their intestines more permeable and more prone to inflammation.

Research shows that the quality of the intestinal flora is better in babies who have been born vaginally and who are breastfed and that these babies have less infant colic. However, not all vaginally born and breastfed babies are free of infant colic–far from it.

In any case, a 2020 study examined the very first stool of meconium after childbirth of babies who went on to develop infant colic and those who did not, and found that the difference already exists at this time.2

Mom’s own Health Impacts her Baby

Other research has noted connections between the mother’s diet during pregnancy as well as her long-term health history and her baby’s tendency to develop allergies and develop other health problems.3 4

Researchers are actively looking into ways to improve the mother’s diet and intestinal health, so as to bring improvement to both the mother and her prospective children.5

This is doubly important because research now also documents that infant colic–once considered normal and harmless–is predictive of digestive problems, allergy, and even learning and neurological problems later in life.6

I personally take infant colic very seriously, having gone through it with my firstborn and wishing I had known then what I know now. In my book Mother Food I describe many of these entangled factors and suggest ways to unwind them and improve everyone’s health and wellbeing. I believe it is possible to prevent infant colic or to improve the symptoms of infant colic, in almost all cases, and that this should be a top priority for new parents and their healthcare providers.

For more information about treating candidiasis naturally (fungal infection is a common component of a permeable intestine and the proclivity for allergies and autoimmune disease) see the article here.

This blogpost began by answering the question: does the food that a mother eats somehow get into her milk and trigger her baby’s colic? The short answer is yes. The long answer has to do with the mother’s permeable intestinal lining, with a baby’s depleted flora, and with other factors that influence the baby’s proclivity to develop allergies. Indeed, many areas of research today are describing links between a mother’s health and her baby’s tendencies toward health or disease. 


  1. Pastor‐Vargas, C, Maroto, AS, Díaz‐Perales, A, Villalba, M, Esteban, V, Ruiz‐Ramos, M, de Alba, MR, Vivanco, F, Cuesta‐Herranz, J. Detection of major food allergens in amniotic fluid: initial allergenic encounter during pregnancy. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2016: 27: 716– 720.
  2. Korpela, K., Renko, M., Paalanne, N. et al. Microbiome of the first stool after birth and infantile colic. Pediatr Res 88, 776–783 (2020).
  3. Kim et al., Maternal Perinatal Dietary Patterns Affect Food Allergy Development in Susceptible Infants. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice 7:2337-2347.e7 (2019) 10.1016/j.jaip.2019.03.026
  4. Rhoads et al., Infant Colic Represents Gut Inflammation and Dysbiosis, The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018: 203: 55-61.e3.
  5. 1.Hurd L. Optimizing the Microbiome and Immune System With Maternal Diet in Pregnancy and Lactation May Prevent Food Allergies in Infants. ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition. 2015;7(4):212-216. doi:10.1177/1941406415595861
  6. Savino, F., Castagno, E., Bretto, R., Brondello, C., Palumeri, E. and Oggero, R. (2005), A prospective 10‐year study on children who had severe infantile colic. Acta Pædiatrica, 94: 129-132. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2005.tb02169.x
  7. Pärtty, Anna; Kalliomäki, Marko; Salminen, Seppo; Isolauri, Erika Infantile Colic Is Associated With Low-grade Systemic Inflammation, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: May 2017 – Volume 64 – Issue 5 – p 691-695 doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001340

Why and How I Write What I do

Why and How I Write What I do

Why and How I Write What I do

Since my early teens, I’ve been on a quest to find the missing pieces that might help me make sense of the world and of myself as a woman and a person.

One of my first quests was to understand why my parents hated one another and were willing to put the mental health of my brother and myself on the line for the sake of carrying out acts of revenge, punishment and disparagement. Both parents were intelligent and modern thinkers – my mother a High School English teacher and aspiring writer, and my father an electrical engineer and successful inventor. But she loved emotions and aspired to ideals of justice and to living passionately, and he loved facts, loved the dispassionate classics, and would counter her ideals with “life is not fair.” Without going too deeply into who my parents were, beyond just these basics, I want to share that they epitomized for me the tragic inability of otherwise successful and intelligent persons to get along and respect one another.                         

My mother was a second-wave feminist, and one of the things she taught me early on was that you should not be and could not be proud of your reproductive accomplishments (pregnancy and children) because reproduction was “mere biology,” an automatic behavior of the body, and was not the product of a creative endeavor.  

As her daughter, I looked for the missing pieces: that is, for the reason she was so deeply unhappy and unable to feel a connection to other people, including to her children. 

One thing both parents agreed on was to raise my brother and myself without religion. They were atheists—he from a Jewish background, and she, a Catholic. They decided to give us a fresh start. This left both of us feeling rootless and disoriented many years, but it also gave us space to explore different approaches to what it means to be human, without childhood indoctrination. For me, this exploration included a few years of Christian fundamentalism (where I learned my Bible stories and was steeped in Christian metaphysics and morality-for which I am grateful), followed by a time of atheism, and then forays into yoga and meditation. My experiments also included feeling the effects of diet and breathwork on my mood, health, and mental focus and productivity. 

I understood already in my early twenties that it is a mistake to separate the body and mind: they influence one another profoundly. What followed from that thought is the recognition that my mother was wrong, and that children are not the product of “mere biology,” but are a product of who we are: mind, body, heart, soul, and experience. Years later, I would understand that our parents’ and grandparents’ diets, toxic exposures, and life experiences also play a role in our own and in our children’s health and well-being. In fact, preparing for and having children is a profound act of generational love, responsibility and creativity on every level.


I would say about my writing that, well, first of all, I never intended to become a writer of non-fiction health-related books. (My degree is in music.) I have always loved to write and dabbled in fiction, creative journaling, and poetry, but writing was a hobby. But when I became a mother myself, and I experienced first hand the sheer number of health struggles that go unanswered and unsupported by our medical experts, I began to look for all the missing pieces. I wanted to know what the suffering was all about.

My book, Mother Food, was the first result of this quest. I discovered that my body’s under-production of breastmilk responded strongly to the foods and herbs I ate, and that women around the world have traditions that are based on this same recognition. Yet for western medicine, the belief that diet mattered for lactation was viewed as “mere superstition.” Biological functions were supposed to be automatic and reliable.  

While researching for Mother Food, I found valuable, even essential, information from many internationally respected sources that addressed the ways that a mother’s diet influences pregnancy, milk production, her baby’s allergies and also infant colic—and much more. I recognized that although this information was available in books and articles, it could not be found in the mothering books and magazines that women read to prepare themselves for birth and postpartum. It was unavailable to mothers. 

It became my goal to collect this information into one place, one book, and to describe it in easy-to-read, compassionate and supportive language (I’ve had “mommy brain” and know it is real). In Working at this project over fifteen years to reach this goal, I learned just how difficult it can be to write good non-fiction! 

Fortunately, I did a good-enough job so that now, nearly twenty years after its initial publication, Mother Food is still recommended by lactation specialists and valued by mothers. 

After its publication, I thought I was done with non-fiction. I allowed myself to indulge my “hobby writing,” starting with a re-writing of fairytales that feature daughters and mothers. I wanted to re-write them in a way that allows the daughters and mothers to heal their relationships, while also talking about the suppression of women’s healing knowledge across centuries of European history. I worked on this compilation, titled Red Madder Root, off and on for six years. Then I put it aside, feeling that the time was not right to publish it.                                                     

As life would have it, in 2013 one of my dearest prayers was answered—I learned a way to help mothers heal emotionally from birth and breastfeeding trauma. On a whim, I’d taken a 200-plus hour certification class in hypnotherapy. (I thought it would be interesting, and a fun way to spend the summer.) Toward the end of the program I realized I had inadvertently acquired a set of fascinating skills that would enable me to help mothers who were suffering from birth trauma and breastfeeding grief. 

I opened a hypnotherapy practice, and, after developing a set of methods that reliably help mothers resolve their grief and re-connect with their mothering-joy, I set to writing again, my second non-fiction book. “Healing Breastfeeding Grief,” was published in 2016. 

The recurring theme of my life seems to be this: finding and picking up the missing pieces, organizing them newly, and then giving the tools I developed to those I hoped would find them useful.

For instance, in the 1990’s, no one talked about how food and herbs can help mothers produce a good milk supply, and in the 2010’s, no one talked about the special traumas of women who struggle to breastfeed or who have a difficult childbirth experience. This second book, too, was welcomed by postpartum specialists, and is used internationally to help mothers recover from their traumatic birth and breastfeeding experiences. 

I thought I was finally done with non-fiction! (Can you tell that I really don’t like writing non-fiction? It is truly so so hard to write well!)

But in 2020, isolated in my home during the lockdowns, I felt moved to write another non-fiction book, again for mothers. This time it was a book about gardening: how to grow foods and herbs that support milk supply but also can be used in the treatment of common family health matters. 

I want mothers to know that important and useful medicinal and edible plants grow wild all around us, in our neighborhoods and gardens, including weeds such as dandelion and purslane, and even common leaves and flowers. A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues encapsulates a range of how-to-grow knowledge plus medicinal know-how. It was published in early 2021. 

As I wrote the book, I couldn’t help wondering if it would turn out to be useful in the coming climate change scenarios, and so it includes many so-called “famine foods,” “drought-tolerant foods” and plants that can be grown year-round on balconies and porches.

Now, I could finally be done with non-fiction and probably with book-writing as well. I could retire, smell the roses, pet a cat, and express gratitude to friends and family. I could teach and consult.

But in 2021, the impacts of climate change were writ large around the world. Where I live, a thousand-year drought is taking its toll. Our farmers have no water for their fields. Fires burn in surrounding forests from July to September. One endless day in August, the sky filled with smoke and ash, I remembered that peculiar book of fiction that I’d written long ago about mothers and daughters and the suppression of women’s traditions. Taking the abandoned book out from storage, I went to a nearby creek where, down by the bank, sitting close to the water, the air was clear enough to breathe. Turning the pages, becoming absorbed in the stories, I was overcome by emotion and started to cry. It was the most remarkable experience. I heard my own voice from my past, reminding me how and why we commit to live our best lives, even in the darkest of times. 

I wondered if, perhaps the time to publish this book had arrived. After sharing it with a few friends and getting their responses, I was convinced that many wonderful people will appreciate and feel uplifted and supported by these stories.  Perhaps though, especially, this book is for those who believe in family, who support the health of families, who have worked with the healing arts, and who have sought an authentic spiritual path, whether within or outside of any religious teaching. 

The tragedies continue. Now war is creating food shortages. Lockdowns still recur around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, tells us that even in the best case scenario, the planet will be seeing dramatic changes and loss of habitat in the decades to come. 

I think about young families and children every day. I am heartbroken.

Even in the hardest of times, and even if it were the end of the world, children are born and raised. Babies must be fed. Mothers continue to need to know which of our weeds, flowers, trees, cacti, vegetables and fruit that grow all around will support their milk supply. 

My hope is this: that in responding to loss and tragedy, today’s generation will realize what is on the line and stop all the fighting and quarreling. Let a culture of the heart emerge that both mourns and treasures, that grieves and offers support wherever possible.  

I hope that my little book, Red Madder Root, a book of courage and honesty that I wrote long ago and have now found again, will be part of the initiation into this new phase of culture. It was inspired and written for a time such as this.





Blue Borage Time – a poem of awe in the garden

Blue Borage Time – a poem of awe in the garden

Your furry leaves and blue starflowers

Summon bees at all the hours,

Throughout spring and throughout summer,

Summon all the honey mummers.


How their nimble legs alight

Upon your blossoms’ azure shade,

They stop and nip your sticky dew,

Then fly away. 


Those bumbles, yellows, tiny blues,

Drunk – imbibing your sweet nectar –

Take no note of this defector

Spellbound by the view.


All I long for, all day long

As here I sit and hear their song,

(the buzz and zip as they dash past,

performing their important task) 

Is just to sit and sit just here

‘Til your blue starflower light appear.


Sweet borage light—so brief, and clear!

When furry leaves wilt and winter is near,

Restore my will to grow,

Renew my strength to grieve,

For all new life will pass,

All starflowers go to seed.


Hilary Jacobson, 2020

Love and Nourishment are One – a poem of healing for mothers with low milk supply

Love and Nourishment are One – a poem of healing for mothers with low milk supply

I still need to hold you near

and feel your dear mouth close

about that tender part of me

where no milk flows.

This sacred thing that should have been,

this rite of every mother,

will not now, nor ever be

a bond, one to the other.

Yet though I feel this utter loss,

a nagging emptiness,

I also smell your warm skin close,

know you don’t need me less.

Song and smile, touch and glance,

we dance our dance until –

scent and hand, hold and clasp,

it’s clear: I love you still.

If love and nourishment are one,

and I love you just the same,

then let me give you love, my love,

that does not bend to shame.

If love and nourishment are one,

perhaps that’s all we need:

to trust our bond is ever here,

regardless how we feed.

Hilary Jacobson, 2004

Writing the book “Healing Breastfeeding Grief”

Writing the book “Healing Breastfeeding Grief”

For ten years, I listened each day to mothers as they vented their profound feelings of loss, grief and failure–feelings I also had with my first baby when I could not build a milk supply. 

I wished with all my heart that I could do more than just commiserate. I wanted to actually discover a way to help mothers heal from what we came to call “breastfeeding grief”: mourning the loss of the breastfeeding relationship and the breastfeeding experience we had expected and planned to have.

Where was the therapy that would help? I did not know.

In 2013, a school for hypnotherapy opened in the town where I lived, and I thought it would be an interesting way to spend the summer. I did not plan to practice as a hypnotherapist. As I had practiced meditation form, I was curious to understand what this other kind of “trance work” was all about. One day though, much as had happened with Mother Food, I realized I was learning a skill set that might actually enable me to transition mothers out of their negative emotions, their sense of loss and failure, and help them re-connect with their positive sense of self as a mother, while building their joy and confidence.

I felt as though my prayers were answered. I was certified in a potent therapy form that would help mothers.

I remember returning home after the ten-week intensive course in a kind of daze. I immediately began to give sessions to mothers with breastfeeding grief, and soon was seeing beautiful turn-arounds with most every mother.

Click here for a professional review of Healing Breastfeeding Grief.

In 2015, I decided to write a book about what I had learned. I wanted to crystalize my experiences so that mothers but also doulas, midwives, lactation consultants and therapists could learn from them.

I also wanted to write a book that in itself could serve as a kind therapy, a book that would let mothers know they are understood and are not alone.

I worked hard at word-crafting sentences so they would flow and resonate with compassion. As one reviewer says, “The healing starts on the very first page.”

I was very fortunate as in a local writers group that met weekly, the mentor of the group, Ruth Wire, had worked as a nurse decades earlier, and all the members were parents. They enthusiastically supported my writing and gave great suggestions. I would like to thank especially Madeleine Sklar for holding my hand and spending hours chiseling with me at sentences and paragraphs during those times when I felt I just could not get a section right.


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