Food allergies are more common in young children (five percent in kids under three years of age) than in adults and identifying potential food allergies is easier if foods are introduced one at a time. Food allergies present in a variety of ways from itchy rashes, to abdominal complaints (pain, vomiting, diarrhea), to swelling of the lips or mouth, or to life threatening reactions (more common with peanut or shellfish).
Suspect food allergy with symptoms occurring within a few hours of consuming a new food. Solid foods generally are not recommended until four months of age. Cereals are usually the least allergenic food and are the first solid foods presented (rice then oat), followed by vegetables and fruits, and then meat products and soft table foods starting at about eight months of age. A general guideline is to wait about three days in between each new food and to try the new food more than once during those days.
Remember to try individual foods first before combining them. Some foods are more allergenic than others and delaying consumption of these foods in infancy or breastfeeding may actually INCREASE the risk of food allergies. Common causes of food allergy include peanut, egg, wheat, milk products, soy, fish and shellfish. These foods need not be delayed until later unlike previously recommended.
More studies are needed in this area, but studies show that breastfeeding exclusively the first 4-6 months helps. Recent studies indicate high risk infants should be seen early in infancy by a pediatric allergist and once tested might benefit from regular amounts of peanut exposure by 6 months of age. Remember peanuts are a choking hazard and should not be given to young children. For those high risk infants that cannot breastfeed using a hydrolyzed infant cows milk formula like Alimentum or Nutramigen is recommended. There is not clear evidence that pre/probiotics decrease the risk of allergy and be aware they do contain milk protein. If you suspect your child has a food allergy, avoid that food until discussing it with your pediatrician.
Food Allergies and Infants
Previously it was recommended to wait to introduce those foods that often cause allergy reactions. According to the allergists infants at risk for developing food allergy are those with a biological parent or sibling with existing, or history of, allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, or food allergy. Restricting a mother’s diet during pregnancy and while breast-feeding have been tried as approaches to protecting against food allergies, but they have not been proven to be effective. Delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, even in infants at risk for food allergy, has not been shown to be beneficial and actually might increase the risk. There are new recommendations being released every 2-3 months about food allergies so continue to check back for the latest.
Honey is not to be given to infants because they are susceptible to infant botulism from spores in the honey, not because of allergy concerns.