Food allergies are becoming more common and can occur when eaten, inhaled or even if the skin comes into contact with the smallest amounts of allergens. Symptoms can be from mild to needing hospitalisation. Testing can help identify which food your baby is allergic to, however it is more precise if you can tell the doctor which foods were eaten in the last few days.
Families with a history of eczema, asthma and food allergies are advised to breastfeed for 6 months. Whilst breastfeeding is unlikely to prevent your baby from becoming allergic the severity of it is likely to be lessened. Cow’s milk and eggs are common triggers for food allergies however children usually grow out of these. Allergies to peanuts however are usually lifelong, and it’s not clear that if you avoid giving your baby peanuts that they won’t become allergic at some point in their life. However if you are allergic to peanuts then you should avoid them for your baby as well.
Introducing solids is recommended from 6 months old and as a complement to breastfeeding. From 6 months breastfed babies require more energy, nutrients and vitamins that solid food can provide and are at an age where they are wanting to start trying other food tastes and textures. Introducing solids at this age may lower the risk of allergies – your breastfed baby does not require solids before 6 months old.
When deciding the first solids to give your baby think about giving the ones that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction: root vegetables – carrots, swede, sweet potato, parsnip, yams; other vegetables – spinach, broccoli, green beans, courgette, cauliflower; fruits – apple, pears, banana, plum, peach, apricots, avocado (mind the stones in certain fruit- keep away from baby); baby rice and/or cooked flaked rice; ground quinoa, breakfast cereals and pasta/noodles made of rice, corn or quinoa; lamb, beef, pork and poultry; lentils and pulses. Foods could be made with cooked tomatoes, but avoid fresh tomatoes for a while.
After a while fresh tomatoes and citrus and berry fruits can be introduced.
Foods that may cause allergens can be introduced from 6 months and should be done so one at a time a few days apart so that any reaction can be observed. Foods that are highly likely to cause an allergy are: milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, soya; fish, shellfish; peanuts, tree nuts, seeds
Symptoms of an allergic reaction are:
A raised itchy rash, swelling, eczema and breathing difficulties, runny or congested nose, wheeze, cough. Delayed reactions (usually after 2 hours) can be: loose and offensive poo; mucus or blood in poo; constipation; vomiting; gastro-oesophageal reflux, sore bottom/nappy rash, poor weight gain, eczema – if you think your baby has any of these you need to contact your health professional.
Any baby may be at risk of a food allergy, to help reduce the likelihood of this happening you should:
- Exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and introduce foods from 6 months, continue to breastfeed as part of baby’s diet
- Introduce high allergenic foods one at a time and look for any signs of an allergic reaction
- Speak to a health professional before introducing foods containing peanuts if there is a family history
Breastfeeding your baby is an excellent way of helping them to avoid food allergies especially if they receive breastmilk exclusively for 6 months. Introducing foods gradually especially those that may cause a reaction will help you to identify if your baby has an allergy. Remember always get your baby checked by a health professional if you are unsure of whether symptoms relate to an allergic reaction or to some other illness.