Food Allergies and Babies
All you need to know about food allergies and how they can affect your baby.
Once your baby is about 6 months old, he/she requires additional nutrients for their growth and development. It’s time to start introducing solids! (Read our blog here if you are not sure if your baby is ready yet). This should be a fun and exciting time for you and baby, but naturally it can cause anxiety for new parents nervous about baby developing a food allergy.
This article will give you peace of mind and a game plan, so you can confidently get back to serving up healthy solid food for bub!
First – what is an allergy?
An allergy occurs when the immune system of your body reacts with a substance in the environment which is usually harmless; like food, pollen or even dust. Your body mistakes the substance as harmful and causes an allergic reaction. When this reaction occurs, allergy antibodies are produced in the body which react with the foreign substance and trigger physical symptoms. Anaphylaxis is the sever, life threatening reaction which most parents are worried bout.
Symptoms to look out for:
A food allergy occurs when a food consumed contains a protein that the body believes to be harmful, the body reacts by releasing chemicals that trigger symptoms that can be mild, moderate or severe. These symptoms, typically, are obvious and develop within 30 minutes of consuming the food.
Mild to moderate symptoms include:
- Rashes on the body
- Swelling of the face, lips and eyes
- Vomiting and stomach ache
Severe food allergy symptoms (Anaphylaxis) can be life threatening and include:
- Difficulty in breathing including wheezing and coughing
- Swelling of tongue and throat
- Difficulty talking or a hoarse voice
- Dizziness, fainting, loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- Becoming pale and floppy
If you believe your child is having a anaphylactic reaction, seek medical help immediately
The skin on babies is extremely sensitive, especially on the face and many foods (including citrus, tomatoes, berries, other fruits and Vegemite) can irate the skin and cause redness. This is not an allergy. Also rubbing the good on skin will not help identify possible allergies.
Common foods that babies are allergic to:
Some of the most common food items that can cause allergy among babies are:
- Milk and milk products
- Nuts like peanut and cashew nut
- Seafood like crab, mussels and prawns
Very rarely babies develop allergy to certain fruits and vegetables but it is possible.
How common are food allergies?
The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy states that food allergy occurs among 1 in 10 infants, 1 in 20 children, and 2 in 100 adults. Food allergy that are found in children are not so severe and can be outgrown in due course of time.
It has been observed that food allergy is on the rise in the recent past. The reason could be
- Too much hygiene because of which both mother and baby are less exposed to infections.
- Method of food processing
Does food allergy run in the family?
Yes, food allergies tend to run in families. However in many cases, children develop food allergy even when both parents are not allergic to the food. It is recommended to introduce the food before 12 months, however it is advised to prepare strategy to minimize risk with your doctor.
Should I delay introducing allergenic foods to my baby?
No, The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy actually recommend introducing allergenic foods within the first year of bubs life (including including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products). This even includes babies at high risk of allergy (aka babies with a family history of allergies etc)!
There is research which suggest that regular intake of certain allergenic foods in the first year can actually reduce the risk of developing an allergy.
How to safely introduce foods to baby:
When you start feeding solid food to baby, it is advised to introduce only one food item at a time. This makes it easier to identify any reactions or food sensitivities. If the food is tolerated, you can continue to include it a varied diet.
Most of the allergic reaction take place within minutes whereas some take up to 2 hours or more to develop, in rare occasions even after 24 hours. Thus, it is best to introduce new food item during day time when you can more easily identify the allergy. Ideally wait a few days before introducing a new food. If an allergic reaction occurs, stop serving it immediately and consult a medical professional.
How to decrease the risk of allergies:
Babies who have been diagnosed with eczema and asthma are more prone to food allergy, make sure you discuss this with you GP as there may be things you can do to help lower the chance of developing allergies. For example:
- There is evidence that introducing cooked egg into an infant’s diet before 8 months, where there is a family history of allergy, can reduce the risk of developing egg allergy.
- There is evidence that babies with severe eczema and/or egg allergy, regular peanut intake before 12 months can reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy.
It is also recommended to continue breast feeding even after introducing solids as there is some evidence that this can decrease the risk of developing a food allergy. This is due to the immunity benefits of breastmilk.
As stated above, introducing allergenic foods in the first 12 months can reduce the chance of becoming allergic to it.
Can babies outgrow allergies?
Yes, many do! This is still being researched and there are several factors that may influence this but one of the biggest factors is the type of food. Babies allergic to milk, egg and soy much more likely to outgrow their allergy than babies with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
Remember that research on allergies is ongoing, for more information speak to your GP or visit The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website