Are you confused about introducing common allergy foods to your baby? Wondering if you should steer clear of foods like peanuts, tree nuts and egg until your child is older? Recent food allergy studies have now established how important it is to introduce common allergy foods to help prevent food allergies. And there are some really helpful resources available to guide you with practical advice.
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When I had my first child, I was blissfully unaware of allergies. It didn’t even occur to me that I should worry about introducing new foods. Either to avoid or to prevent food allergies. We had no family history of food allergy. My baby was feeding well, didn’t have eczema and no one had suggested that I should even think about allergies. We went ahead with milk, egg, fish and even moved on to smooth peanut butter. No dramas.
Our food allergy discovery
Second child. Very different scenario. Always sick and unsettled and covered in terrible eczema. My only warning about food allergies was a passing comment by our paediatrician that our baby might be more likely to have food allergies if also experiencing eczema. And the fact that a lick from our dog as a newborn caused an itchy rash (hives).
So when the time came to try solids (about 5 months), we started with pureed vegetables and worked our way up as we had done before. Then I gave the poor little thing some custard with milk in it. And a small taste of formula. Both times resulted in an immediate red hivey rash all around the mouth and neck. It had to be the milk!
I asked a friend who had a daughter with a milk allergy for details of her allergist and immunologist and made an appointment. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in for another 6 months, even when it was considered a priority case as a child under 12 months with a milk allergy. So I stopped feeding anything with cow’s milk and waited.
Sleeping got worse. Eczema got much worse.
What I didn’t know until we finally had the first allergy tests at 11 months was that my poor baby was not only allergic to milk, but also to eggs (white and yolk), peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. And as I was still breastfeeding, reacting to everything I ate with those ingredients.
There were many more allergies to come, but at least we knew what we were doing by that stage.
How to help prevent food allergies
Things have changed in recent years. Allergy awareness has increased (thankfully). The impression I get is that a lot of new parents looking to introduce solids for the first time are very aware of food allergies. Some of them may have allergies themselves, in which case this can be a very nerve wracking time. Nervous parents have even avoided introducing common allergy causing foods altogether.
Current advice is that you should introduce the common allergy causing foods to your child before they turn 1 to reduce the risk of allergies.
In fact, a recent study (“The EarlyNuts Study”) has shown that since these guidelines were introduced in Australia in 2016, there has been a 16% decrease in peanut allergies in babies.1
But how should you introduce peanuts and other common allergy foods? What if your baby is allergic and has a reaction?
Introducing common allergy foods
Here in Australia the National Allergy Strategy has a fantastic resource called Nip Allergies in the Bub. It has answers to all your food allergy questions and the reassurance you need to introduce new foods to your baby.
The Nip Allergies in the Bub website includes:
- general information about feeding your baby and introducing solid foods;
- how to introduce the main allergy causing foods;
- identifying the symptoms of an allergic reaction and what to do; and
- feeding a baby with existing allergies or a family history of allergies.
The top 10 food allergy ingredients in Australia are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and lupin. Some of these are going to be easy to introduce (like milk, egg, wheat and fish) and others a bit trickier. You obviously can’t feed a small child whole nuts, which are a choking hazard. Safe choices could include things like peanut or other nut butters, foods made with almond flour or tahini (sesame paste). Nip Allergies in the Bub has some very handy food idea sheets to download with age appropriate ways to feed these important foods.
You can also read about the research behind the recommendations to introduce allergy causing foods in your baby’s first 12 months. This includes a summary of the LEAP (Learning About Peanut) Study.
Nip Allergies in the Bub also has helpful information about managing your child’s eczema. Many children with eczema also have food allergies.
Overcoming food fears
If you have a family history of food allergies, or even if you don’t, introducing common allergy causing foods can be worrying.
I can completely relate. We went on to have another baby and I have been through this from a different perspective now. Hyper-aware of food allergies and carrying EpiPens everywhere we went. But then I had to feed my new little baby the very foods that could cause potentially life threatening reactions in our other child? Happily, I can tell you it was absolutely fine. No food allergies the next time around. And if there had been, I knew what signs to look out for and what to do.
Make sure that you check out the resources at Nip Allergies in the Bub so that you can confidently introduce new foods to your baby and help prevent food allergies. Or be prepared and know exactly what to do if you do end up joining the allergy club.
Another brilliant tool to help you is a new book by Pam Brook, We Can All Eat This! This book was created especially to help parents of babies and toddlers up to 24 months introduce common allergy causing foods to their children’s diets. It’s packed with delicious, healthy recipes for the whole family. I had the chance to look through this book just after it was released and it looks like a fantastic resource for parents. I wish it had been available when we were introducing foods to our babies.
If you do discover your baby has food allergies, you are definitely not alone. 1 in 10 babies in Australia today have an allergy. Make sure you reach out for support from your local allergy support organisation.
And don’t forget to subscribe for more practical allergy tips.
References and more information
- 1Publication: Victoria X Soriano, Rachel L Peters, Anne-Louise Ponsonby, Shyamali C Dharmage, Lyle C Gurrin, Jennifer J Koplin. ‘Has the prevalence of peanut allergy changed following earlier introduction of peanut? The EarlyNuts Study,’ The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2020.12.009
- Nip Allergies in the Bub website