Food allergies in babies and young children
Exclusive breast feeding or first infant formula is recommended for around the first six months of life.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women don't need to avoid foods that can trigger allergic reactions (including peanuts), unless you're allergic to them.
Peanuts are the leading trigger of food allergies in children. Other common ones are :
- cows' milk
- eggs (eggs without a red lion stamp should not be eaten raw or lightly cooked)
- foods that contain gluten, including wheat, barley and rye
- seeds (serve them crushed or ground)
- shellfish (don't serve raw or lightly cooked)
How will I know if my child has a food allergy?
An allergic reaction can consist of 1 or more of the following:
- diarrhoea or vomiting
- a cough
- wheezing and shortness of breath
- itchy throat and tongue
- itchy skin or rash
- swollen lips and throat
- runny or blocked nose
- sore, red and itchy eyes
In a few cases, foods can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life-threatening. Get medical advice if you think your child is having an allergic reaction to a particular food.
Don't be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food, such as milk, because this could lead to your child not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who may refer you to a registered dietitian.
There is no cure for food allergies. But new studies have found that in the case of peanuts, it might be possible to prevent a severe allergy from developing by introducing them to high risk infants as early as 4 to 6 months. Some research has shown that introduction to multiple allergens together such as nuts, eggs, and fish, may help the immune system against the development of allergies but more studies are needed. The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging the introduction of allergenic foods under doctor’s supervision.
Still,as a rule, if your child is diagnosed with a food allergy, he must stay away from the problem food, even in tiny amounts. Be sure to check all food labels for hidden ingredients, like peanut oil, and take care when ordering meals at restaurants.
Some children outgrow a food allergy. but for others, the allergy may last their entire life.
Sometimes, breastfeeding infants get fussy after mom eats certain spicy or gassy foods like cabbage. Doctors don't call this a true allergy because it doesn't cause typical allergy symptoms, like hives or a rash - the most common symptoms of a food allergy. If your child fusses or cries every time you eat a certain food, call your pediatrician. It could be a sign of colic instead.
If your family has a history of food allergies, pediatricians recommend that you:
- Give your baby only breast milk until he's 6 months old. It can make him less likely to have food allergies.
- Watch the amount of dairy, fish, eggs, and nuts you eat while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
But breastfeeding moms shouldn't stress too much about their diet. There's no proof that staying away from certain foods during breastfeeding can keep your baby from developing allergies or asthma. And kids with food allergies are 2 to 4 times more likely to have asthma and other allergies.
If your baby already has an allergy such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or if you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay-fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing foods, so talk to your GP or health visitor first.
Introducing foods that could trigger allergy
When you start introducing solid foods to your baby from around 6 months old, introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time and in very small amounts so that you can spot any reaction.
These foods can be introduced from around 6 months as part of your baby's diet, just like any other foods.
Once introduced and if tolerated, these foods should become part of your baby's usual diet to minimise the risk of allergy.
Evidence has shown that delaying the introduction of peanut and hen's eggs beyond 6 to 12 months may increase the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.
Lots of children outgrow their allergies to milk or eggs, but a peanut allergy is generally lifelong.
If your child has a food allergy, read food labels carefully.
Avoid foods if you are not sure whether they contain the food your child is allergic to.