Food allergies affect 7 to 8% of children in the United States and can develop within the first six months of life. Below, we go over how to introduce new foods to your little one.
Identifying food allergy risk factors
If one parent has an allergic disease (either eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis, or food allergy), the child’s likelihood of developing a food allergy increases by 40% compared to those without a family history, and if both parents have an allergic disease, that likelihood rises by 60-80%.¹ Understanding that your child may have a food allergy is helpful information you can use to protect them.
You may already have a child with a food allergy, turning family meals into a delicate dance of ingredient scrutiny and alternative recipes. Now, you wonder about the likelihood of history repeating itself with your next child. Studies suggest that if one child in the family has environmental or food allergies, eczema, or asthma, the chances of a sibling developing a food allergy double compared with no family history of allergy.²
If there are any concerns that your child may be at higher risk of developing a food allergy, consult with an allergist. They will conduct a thorough evaluation and help decipher test results, ensuring you're not unnecessarily eliminating foods from your child’s diet. Why? Because not all positive allergy tests signal a full-blown allergy. Exposure in a monitored setting might even help the immune system learn, decreasing the likelihood of developing a severe allergy.
Are food allergies linked to environmental allergies, asthma, and eczema?
Yes. Allergies, eczema, and asthma are interconnected and can often leave parents in a state of confusion. Research indicates that severe eczema in infants could be a red flag, indicating a potential food allergy down the road. If you notice persistent eczema or other concerning symptoms, it's wise to consult with an allergist for a thorough evaluation.
Prevention and protection strategies
Now, the burning question: Can you protect your little one from allergies? While no guarantees exist, there are proactive steps you can take. Early introduction and continued feeding have the greatest evidence in protecting against food allergy.
- Early introduction of allergenic foods, especially peanut and egg
- Major food allergens: Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame
- If your child has moderate to severe eczema, studies have shown that they will benefit from early introduction of peanut and egg to prevent food allergy. Consult with an allergist to guide the introduction of these foods.
- After successful introduction of a food, it is important to keep that food in the child’s diet to prevent sensitization and development of an allergy.
There has been recent interest in the role of probiotics in reducing the risk of food allergies. Can they make a difference?
- Recent research has shown that introducing probiotics during infancy may have a protective effect against allergies. Probiotics, particularly those containing lactobacillus strains, contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, potentially influencing the immune system's development.
- While they can't guarantee immunity, incorporating lactobacillus-rich probiotics into your child's diet may offer protection. But hold on! While probiotics generally don’t harm, premature babies should not be given them. Always consult with your pediatrician before making any decisions about supplements.
Introducing allergenic foods
- Early Introduction of Common Allergens: Around the age of 4 to 6 months, introduce small quantities of common allergens like peanut and egg. This gradual exposure can potentially reduce the risk of allergies.
- Monitor Reactions: Give a taste and watch for reactions. If all is well after 15 minutes, offer a little more. This slow and steady approach helps identify any adverse responses early on.
- One Food at a Time: Introduce one new food one at a time, allowing you to pinpoint the cause of any potential reactions. This methodical approach simplifies the detective work.
- Tolerance Period: Once a new food is introduced, observe your infant's tolerance for a few days. If there are no adverse reactions, you can confidently add it to their diet.
- Consult an Allergist: If your baby has severe eczema or if there's a familial history of allergies, consult with an allergist. These specialists can guide you through the decision-making process, providing tailored advice based on your child's unique circumstances.
In the end, understanding the nuances of food allergies in babies and children empowers parents to make informed choices. Whether you're just beginning to introduce solids to your baby or navigating the challenges of allergies with an older child, knowledge is your greatest asset. So, roll up your sleeves, armed with information and a touch of optimism, and let's guide our little ones through the maze of food exploration.
1. Zukiewicz-Sobczak, Wioletta Agnieszka, et al. “Causes, symptoms and prevention of food allergy.” Postepy dermatologii i alergologii vol. 30,2 (2013): 113-6. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.34162
2. Koplin, Jennifer J et al. “The impact of family history of allergy on risk of food allergy: a population-based study of infants.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Vol. 10,11 5364-77. 25 Oct. 2013, doi:10.3390/ijerph10115364
They say knowledge is power. We couldn’t agree more. Learn about the chronic health condition that affects 50 million Americans every year.