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Family At Mealtime

Food allergies are on the rise! What about your baby? What should you feed him/her?

Until recently, it was thought that delaying a baby’s exposure to common allergens would help prevent the development of allergies. That practice is no longer advised. Recent evidence seems to suggest that early exposure to allergens, that is, from around 4–6 months of age may actually allow the infant’s immune system to become tolerant and prevent allergic reactions. However, if your baby is diagnosed with a food allergy, that food must be avoided.

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is caused when the body’s immune system mistakes an ingredient in food—usually a protein—as harmful and creates a defense system to fight it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies are battling an “invading” food protein. Common symptoms or signs of an allergic reaction (in people of all ages) include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting

Although a person could have an allergy to almost any food, the following eight foods account for almost 90% of all food-related allergic reactions:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as cashews and walnuts)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

How can you tell if your baby is allergic?

If your baby has severe eczema or is showing signs of hives, excessive vomiting, failure to thrive, and extreme fussiness during most feeding sessions, coughing/wheezing with feedings, or other similar issues, you should speak to your pediatrician.

What if a biological parent or sibling have food allergies?

Talk with your pediatrician before introducing common allergen containing foods.

What foods are commonly associated with allergies?

The most common allergies in infants come from milk, egg, wheat and soy products. However, these allergies often resolve when the child is 3-5 years old. While allergies from peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish can resolve, they are more likely to be carried into adulthood. While these foods are more associated with allergies, it does not mean they should be avoided. They only need to be avoided if your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy or you have discussed it with your pediatrician.

How should you go about introducing your baby to foods containing common allergens?

Try other foods first

Start with other single ingredient foods, such as infant cereals, vegetables and fruits. Serve these foods one at a time. If there are no signs of allergic reactions with these foods, then you may begin to introduce the common allergenic foods.

Go slowly

Introduce just one food at a time, and then wait three to five days before trying the next new food (whether it is a highly allergenic food or not).

Choose the right time

When you are ready to introduce a food associated with allergies, pick a time when you will be at home and you will be able to watch your baby closely for any signs of reaction. It may be better to do this earlier in the day and not right before a nap or bedtime. Do not try these foods right before you need to leave the house to go somewhere, such as to drop the baby off at day care or take your other children to school! Although many babies who have a food allergy react the very first time they eat a food, you should be cautious for the first two or three times that your baby tries an allergenic food. After that, you can relax knowing the chances of a reaction are extremely small.

Start with a small quantity

Don’t give your baby a full serving of a highly allergenic food on the first feeding. Start with just a small amount. If there does not appear to be a reaction, then you can gradually increase the quantity during the next few feedings.

Use nut butters, not nuts

Never feed nuts to a baby. Babies can choke on nuts. To introduce nuts into your baby’s diet, use a very thin spread of nut butters or pastes.

Can my baby develop allergies through my breast milk?

  • If your baby develops symptoms of an allergic reaction (severe eczema, signs of hives, excessive vomiting, extreme fussiness during most feeding sessions, coughing/wheezing with feedings) you should call your pediatrician.
  • The symptoms will usually appear 3-6 hours after nursing.
  • Your doctor might suggest that you eliminate common allergy foods from your diet, usually beginning with dairy products. Your baby’s symptoms should improve within 1-2 weeks.
  • There are no recommendations to avoid any food while you are breastfeeding to prevent allergies. These restrictions are only recommended for breastfed babies who have developed symptoms.

For more information:

References; Feeding Allergenic Foods to Babies and Pregnant or Nursing Moms, Eat It or Avoid It?  Todd D. Green, MD, FAAAAI  American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

Did you know?

Creating routines and responding warmly and predictably to your baby helps them feel safe. It shows that they can count on you when they are sick, upset or distressed, and that you can meet their needs.

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