Need to know: Baby food allergies

Introducing solids to your baby’s diet can be fun – as long as there are no unpleasant reactions. We’ve gathered all the information you need about food allergies in babies.


Baby food allergiesRunny nose and eyes.A baby’s immune system is very vulnerable in the first year of life. As it slowly adapts and grows, one of the most important things to be aware of is food allergies. If you or your partner is allergy-prone, or if your baby has signs of eczema, it’s even more essential to watch for signs of allergies in your baby.
 
What causes food allergies?
A sudden reaction can be scary, especially if you don’t know what brought it on. It has been proven that food allergies begin when a baby’s immune system becomes sensitive to a substance it encounters and starts to produce antibodies in reaction to that substance. We now know that the first encounter with food may be caused via the oral route (ingesting the substance) or even via the skin in a child with eczema. Whilst most immune systems will “accept” a new food, in some cases it will be mistaken as a “foreign” substance and the body mounts an immune response as protection. This immune response may result in signs of food allergy when the particular food is eaten again.
 
What are the symptoms?                                                                                    
Symptoms of food allergies are usually physical and can be nasty… They include:
  • Eczema.
  • Wheezing or breathing difficulty.
  • Hives or other skin rashes.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort.
  • Violent vomiting.
  • Anaphylactic shock.
Research has shown that certain foods are prone to cause allergies, among them nuts, peanuts, eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, wheat and soya.
 
How can allergies be prevented?
Breast is best
If you’re lucky enough to be able to breastfeed, then that is the first step in protecting your baby. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies compared to formula-fed babies, because it has been proven that breast milk helps develop the immune system, whereas cow’s milk is a common allergenic substance. If at all possible, try to breastfeed exclusively for the first four to six months, and preferably also during the time you introduce solids. The best time to introduce solids seems to be between four and six months.

First introduce less allergenic foods
As you start introducing solids, begin with those that are unlikely to cause any reactions. Studies have shown that baby rice cereal is unlikely to cause an allergy, so it’s a good place to start. In general oats and barley are far less allergenic than wheat and corn, and you should be safe with most fruits and vegetables.

Gradual introduction of new foods
The best way to avoid sudden food allergies is to introduce new foods slowly. Start with one at a time and give the same food each day for a few days before trying another. If your baby shows any sign of a reaction – a rash, gas, looser stools, a runny nose or wheezing – discontinue the food and discuss the reaction with your doctor, who will advise appropriate testing for food allergies.
 
After six months of age, most foods including cow’s milk products, eggs and peanuts can be introduced, slowly and carefully. The idea that “high allergy” foods such as nuts and eggs should only be introduced much later into the diet has no proof, and experts are now advising earlier rather than later introduction.
 
How can allergies be treated?
  • The first step to managing food allergies is an accurate diagnosis: speak to your doctor and have your child referred to an allergy specialist, if possible.
  • There is no “cure” for food allergies and avoidance of the food is the main focus of management. Luckily, a large proportion of children outgrow their allergies in time.
  • It is important to see a dietician who is trained in allergies to help you avoid all forms of the food and find suitable substitutes.
  • Your child’s caregivers should be trained to recognise reactions early and give the right treatment.
  • Usually allergic reactions are mild (such as skin rashes and vomiting) and just need a dose of antihistamine syrup for treatment. Occasionally, reactions are more severe and your doctor may even prescribe an adrenaline pen to have on standby. 
Although it might seem like allergies are only something to worry about much later in life, baby food allergies are more common than most of us expect – food allergies occur in 5 to 10% of babies in their first year of life. Armed with these tools, your baby will have no problem adapting to a long and healthy life of solid foods! Do you have any baby food tips for the BabyGroup community?
 
BabyGroup says…

This article has been checked by Dr Claudia Gray, Paediatrician. A member of the BabyGroup Medical Council.
 
“Food allergies are increasing rapidly and it is important to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms, and to involve your doctor and dietician! Many people “self-diagnose” and often “over-diagnose” food allergies so rather involve an expert.” Dr Claudia Gray

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