The skinny on food allergies

Allergies are very common, and tend to run in families. If Baby comes from a genetic family history of allergies on either side, there’s a better chance that they will also have allergies. Other early signs that Baby might have allergies are eczema (dry, patchy, irritated skin) and asthma (which doesn’t always show up as coughing, but can present as noisy breathing and wheezing through a cold). If you’re trying to figure out if they have an allergy, a common strategy suggests introducing new foods one at a time, and a few times in a row before moving on to the next food, so that if Baby does have a reaction, you’ll have a better idea where it came from.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ current recommendation says that there is no evidence to prove that waiting to introduce these foods will reduce the risk of allergies. In fact, new studies suggest that introducing highly allergenic foods (such as peanut-containing food) in small amounts early on can actually reduce the chances of babies developing allergies to these foods. It’s also true that allergic reactions from first exposures to allergens are usually not severe and are often mild – redness around the lips and hives, for example. But parents whose children are at a high risk for developing allergies should certainly consult with their pediatrician, and possibly an allergist, when deciding how to go forward. If you and your healthcare provider decide on this method, it’s important to be familiar with the signs of a severe allergic reaction, like repeated vomiting, wheezing, trouble breathing, or swollen tongue or lips. These should prompt an immediate 911 or other emergency services call. But studies now show that introducing small amounts of highly allergenic foods seem to be an important tool for helping to reduce the risk of dangerous allergies.

On the other hand, some physicians say babies are better equipped to handle allergic reactions at an older age, especially in the case of foods that tend to cause more severe allergic reactions, like seafood or peanuts. Infants’ stomachs can’t process some of the solids in whole milk until they grow a little, and the AAP suggests waiting until Baby is a year old to try it.

So at the end of the day, before deciding on any strategy for introducing foods that are common allergens, it’s a good idea to check in with Baby’s pediatrician for guidance.

Allergy symptoms

  • Hives
  • Swelling of face, legs or arms
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tongue or lip swelling

Most common allergens

Ninety percent of food allergies are to these allergens:

  • Milk/dairy
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

How to respond

Immediate medical attention for a severe allergic reaction is probably a given (a 911 call is a good idea if they are having trouble breathing or has facial swelling after eating), but some more mild reactions may be harder to know how to respond to. A first mild allergic reaction is no guarantee that a second reaction might not be more severe, and Baby’s pediatrician will be able to test them to confirm the allergen and tell you how to proceed.

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