Introducing allergenic foods to your baby early on can play a crucial role in reducing the risk of food allergies. Research has shown that early exposure to allergenic foods, such as cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, and sesame, may help prevent the development of food allergies in children .
In 2015, the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study demonstrated that early introduction of peanut-containing foods to infants at high risk of peanut allergy significantly reduced the development of the allergy by the age of 5 . This groundbreaking study led to updated guidelines recommending early introduction of allergenic foods for infants at high risk of food allergies .
This suggests that offering babies the top 9 allergenic foods before they reach nine months of age, can help support their immune system and potentially reduce the likelihood of food allergies developing later in life.
Introducing Allergenic Food to High-Risk Babies
Introducing allergenic foods to high-risk babies, such as those with a family history of food allergies, eczema, or poor gut health, requires extra care and attention. Research shows that a healthy gut microbiome plays an essential role in the development of a well-functioning immune system and may help prevent the onset of food allergies . In high-risk infants, it is particularly important to focus on nurturing a healthy gut microbiome through breastfeeding, probiotics, and prebiotic foods .
Consultation with a healthcare professional or a naturopath like Laila Helena can provide guidance on safely introducing allergenic foods to your baby’s diet. For high-risk infants, early introduction of allergenic foods can be beneficial, as the LEAP study demonstrated that early peanut exposure significantly reduced the risk of peanut allergy in infants with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both . By taking a proactive approach and working holistically, parents of high-risk babies can support their child’s immune system and help reduce the risk of food allergies.
Allergenic Food #1: Cow’s Milk
Cow’s milk is a common allergen, but it can be introduced to your baby’s diet through yogurt and cheese. Start by offering small amounts of yogurt or soft cheese, and watch for any signs of an allergic reaction. Gradually increase the amount over time as your baby becomes comfortable with the new food.
Allergenic Food #2: Eggs
Eggs are another allergenic food that can be introduced early. Begin by offering only the yolk, as it is less allergenic than the egg white. You can hard boil an egg and mash the yolk, or scramble it with a little breastmilk or formula. As your baby becomes comfortable with the yolk, you can gradually introduce the egg white as well.
Allergenic Food #3: Peanuts
Introducing peanuts early can help reduce the risk of peanut allergy. You can introduce peanuts through peanut butter or peanut powder mixed with other foods. Start with a small amount of peanut butter or powder, and gradually increase the quantity as your baby becomes comfortable with the new food.
Allergenic Food #4: Tree Nuts
Tree nuts can also be introduced early in the form of nut butter, such as almond butter. Offer a small amount of nut butter on a spoon or veggie stick. Otherwise, mix the nut butter with other food (that isn’t an allergen) and watch for any signs of an allergic reaction. Gradually increase the amount over time.
Allergenic Food #5: Soy
Soy products like tofu, tempeh and soy yoghurt can be introduced early as well. Offer small amounts of tofu, tempeh or soy yoghurt and gradually increase the quantity as your baby becomes comfortable with the new food.
Allergenic Food #6: Wheat
Introduce wheat to your baby at around 12 months of age through breads and pasta, and opt for organic whole grains whenever possible. Start with small amounts and gradually increase the quantity over time.
Allergenic Food #7: Fish
Fish is an allergenic food that can be introduced early, with types like salmon and cod being the best options for young infants. Ensure the fish is deboned and cooked thoroughly before offering it to your baby. Start with small amounts and gradually increase the quantity over time.
Allergenic Food #8: Shellfish
Shellfish, such as shrimp, Moreton bugs and oysters, can also be introduced early. Make sure to cook shellfish thoroughly and remove any shells before offering it to your baby.
Allergenic Food #9: Sesame
Sesame can be introduced to your baby through tahini and other sesame-containing foods. You may also like to cover avocado in sesame seeds. Offer a small amount of tahini mixed with other foods.
Tips for Introducing Allergenic Foods Safely
- Start with small amounts and gradually increase. You can dab a small amount of the allergen onto your baby’s lips.
- Repeat the same allergen for 3 days, then wait another 2-3 days before introducing another.
- Introduce one allergen at a time.
- Watch for signs of an allergic reaction.
- Introduce the allergen in the morning or at lunch so that you can watch for immediate reactions.
- Consult your paediatrician or a baby nutritionist for guidance if you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed. Book an appointment here.
Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- Hives (raised, red, itchy welts on the skin)
- Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Coughing or a runny nose
- Red, watery, or itchy eyes
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Stomach pain or cramps
- Skin rash or eczema flare-ups
- Excessive drowsiness
If you notice any of these symptoms in your baby after introducing a new food consult a healthcare professional or a naturopath like Laila Helena for further guidance. In case of a severe allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention.
Is it a food allergy or a food sensitivity?
In babies, food allergies and sensitivities can present with similar symptoms, but they are fundamentally different regarding the body’s response mechanisms. What is more, an allergic response will often occur within the first 1-3 hours of ingesting the allergen. However, food sensitivities may take several days or months to produce a reaction.
A food allergy involves an immune system reaction, usually caused by proteins found in certain foods. When a baby with a food allergy consumes an allergenic food, the body perceives it as harmful and releases histamine and other chemicals to fight off the perceived threat. This reaction can lead to symptoms ranging from mild to severe, such as hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and, in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. The most common food allergens for babies include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
Food sensitivity, on the other hand, is a non-immune system-related reaction to specific foods or food components. It may be caused by various factors, such as enzyme deficiencies or reactions to food additives. Symptoms of food sensitivities are generally milder and may include rash, gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, eczema flare-ups, poor immunity (persistent coughs, colds, runny nose, ear infections, croup) or irritability. While food sensitivities can cause discomfort, they are not life-threatening, like severe food allergies.
Breastfeeding & Allergenic Foods
Breastfeeding is an incredible way to nourish and bond with your baby. However, in some cases, babies may show signs of allergies or sensitivities to certain substances in their mother’s breast milk. These reactions can occur when the mother consumes allergenic foods, and the proteins from those foods pass into her breast milk .
If your breastfed baby shows signs of allergies or sensitivities, such as persistent fussiness, excessive crying, skin rashes, or digestive issues like diarrhoea or constipation. I recommend keeping a food and symptom diary and booking into seeing one of our naturopaths.
We may recommend an elimination diet, where you temporarily remove suspected allergenic foods from your diet and observe any changes in your baby’s symptoms . Common allergenic foods to consider eliminating include cow’s milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Yet, the usual culprits are cow’s milk, eggs, gluten and soy. Gradually reintroduce each food individually, while monitoring your baby for any reaction. This process can help identify specific foods that may be causing the issue.
In addition to following an elimination diet, it’s essential to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods to support your baby’s growth and development. As well, as your own energy and well-being. Also, consider working with a naturopath like Laila Helena to support both your and your baby’s gut health, as a healthy microbiome plays a crucial role in preventing and managing food allergies and sensitivities .
What can I do if I suspect a food allergy or sensitivity in my baby?
If you suspect a food allergy or sensitivity in your baby, it’s essential to find out what foods they are allergic to and what foods they are sensitive to. The first step is to complete some testing and start working on gut healing.
Gut healing is crucial to addressing food allergies or sensitivities, as a healthy gut microbiome plays a vital role in immune system function and overall well-being. Here are some steps you can take to address potential food allergies or sensitivities:
- Make a booking with us to order your functional testing and make a treatment plan tailored to your baby’s needs.
- Functional IgG and IgA food reactivity testing: These tests can help identify allergies and food sensitivities in your baby. By measuring the levels of specific antibodies (IgG and IgA) in response to various foods, healthcare professionals can determine which foods may be causing issues for your baby. This information can help guide targeted interventions, such as the temporary elimination of specific foods.
- Functional microbiome testing: A functional microbiome test can help assess your baby’s gut health and provide valuable insights into their gut flora composition. This information can help guide personalized interventions to support your baby’s gut health, such as the use of probiotics, prebiotics, or other targeted nutritional strategies.
- Temporary elimination diet: If you’re breastfeeding, your healthcare provider may recommend temporarily removing suspected allergenic foods from your diet to observe any changes in your baby’s symptoms. Common allergenic foods include cow’s milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish. If your baby has already started solids, you may need to eliminate these foods from their diet as well.
- Reintroducing the allergen once the gut is healed: Once your baby’s gut health has improved, and any food sensitivities or allergies have been addressed, you can gradually reintroduce the allergenic foods into their diet (or your diet, if breastfeeding) under the guidance of your healthcare provider. This process should be done slowly and carefully to monitor your baby for any reactions.
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