Strategies for introducing common food allergens

Baby may be afraid of loud noises, the drain in the bathtub, or that one teddy bear that gives her some side-eye, but there’s a good chance that, as she gets ready to start trying solid foods, it’s the idea that she might have a food allergy that’s haunting her parents.

Any food can cause a food allergy, but, luckily for all the nervous parents out there, most of them usually don’t. In fact, of all of the millions of types of foods in the world, 90% of food allergies are caused by the same six foods: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, and gluten.

These common allergens mean that while allergies can develop at any time, there are really only six big introductions that tend to make parents nervous. Medical advice used to recommend that common allergens not be introduced to babies until they reached early toddlerhood, but research over the past few years suggests that delaying introducing common allergens doesn’t do anything to reduce the risk of allergies.

In fact, in some cases, particularly eggs and peanuts, there is some evidence that introducing these foods earlier can actually reduce the risk of allergies.

Introducing common allergens

Current medical recommendations suggest beginning to introduce common allergens like milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, and tree nuts at around the same time that all other solids are introduced. This can happen when your baby is around 6 months old, and showing signs of being ready for solids. These signs include holding her head up on her own, showing an interest in food, being able to swallow food from a spoon, and having approximately doubled her birth weight.

There’s no specific set of rules for introducing highly allergenic foods, but there are certain guidelines for safe introduction.

  • Pace yourself: One of the most important strategies for introducing common allergens is to introduce only one new one per week, so that if your baby does have an allergic reaction, you’ll be able to tell what caused it. Since babies often don’t have allergic reactions at the first exposure to an allergen, waiting a week gives you the chance do a few exposures.
  • Be vigilant: If your baby comes from a family history or genetic background of food allergies, respiratory allergies, or eczema, she has a higher chance of developing a food allergy than children who do not. That isn’t necessarily an indication of a certain type of allergy, though – while some allergies, like egg and peanut allergies, seem to have specific genetic component, it’s also totally possible for a baby to inherit a tendency towards food allergies, and end up with an allergy to a different type of food.
  • Be selective: It’s a good idea to introduce highly allergenic foods early as a way of beginning to build a balanced, varied diet, but there are still some foods it’s important to wait on for a little while. Whole milk shouldn’t be introduced until your child is at least a year old, since younger babies’ kidneys aren’t ready to easily digest some of the proteins and minerals in cow’s milk. When introducing peanuts and tree nuts, it should be as a paste or “butter,” since whole and crushed nuts can be choking hazards.

Introducing your baby to solid foods should be a fun experience for both of you. Introducing allergenic foods can be stressful, but doing so gradually and thoughtfully can help to take a lot of the uncertainty out of the process.

If your child does show signs of an allergic reaction, including hives, itching, rashes, congestion, diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain, contact her pediatrician. If she has swelling of the face, mouth, or tongue, or is having trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency services number right away.


Sources

  • Francis Collins. “Peanut Allergies: Prevention by Early Exposure.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 3 2015. Web.
  • Gary G. K. Wong. “Preventing Food Allergy in Infancy – Early Consumption or Avoidance?” New England Journal of Medicine. 374: 1783-1784. Web. May 5 2016.
  • “Allergic reactions.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 January 2017. Web.
  • “Common Food Allergies.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
  • “Introducing Highly Allergenic Solid Foods.” AAAAI. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Web.
  • “Starting Solid Foods.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, February 1 2012. Web.
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