The infant stage is exciting as you see your child learn to sit up, grasp things and grow. There are so many exciting milestones, but when it comes time to introducing many food allergens, some parents may have worries. Here’s what you need to know as you expose your child to common food allergens.
Food allergen recommendations have been updated
Recently, the North American Allergy Societies recently published a consensus document with updated recommendations for introducing allergens to children. This was a joint effort of multiple groups – The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; and the Canadian Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology to look beyond the previous recommendations which only included prevention for a peanut allergy. The results come from a trial where children were exposed to food allergens like peanuts, eggs, soy and other foods that commonly affect children.
The new food allergy introduction recommendations include:
Offer food allergens starting at 4 to 6 months old in developmentally appropriate forms and offer them regularly.
Feed a variety of foods including potentially allergenic food options.
Hypoallergenic formulas were not found to be helpful.
Mothers should not intentionally avoid foods to prevent a food allergy for their child.
Eczema in infants is considered a high risk for developing a food allergy.
Food allergies and symptoms
Food allergies affect about 8% of children in the United States. That’s as many as 1 in 13 kids, or 2 children in every classroom. While it is possible any food can cause an allergy, there are 9 foods with the most common allergens:
Children who have allergic reactions to foods can show symptoms in many ways but usually appear within minutes and up to 2 hours after exposure. Often, symptoms will appear around the mouth, nose, on the skin and in the gut ranging from itching to hives and discomfort. A severe allergic reaction can affect breathing, blood pressure, widespread hives, itching, swelling and vomiting. If you see a mild reaction, you should speak with your pediatrician. If you see a severe symptom, call 9-1-1 immediately.
How the food allergy recommendations impact parents
Parents and caregivers who are starting to introduce foods to their children really need to do one thing— feed your kid. Parents are always trying to do the right thing, but sometimes the messages can be confusing or easily mixed up. So, the best thing you can do for your child is give them a variety of food and help them try foods to learn to enjoy them.
With the new recommendations, we know children with severe eczema – covering the majority of their body – are at the highest risk to develop food allergies. For other children, science is showing to go straight to introducing foods instead of waiting or screening for allergies.
Tips for introducing food allergens
Start early. Early food introduction of allergenic foods is best started as soon as they’re able to sit up and swallow safely. With age-appropriate servings, it can be helpful to introduce a food around 4 to 6 months old. An allergenic food shouldn’t be the first food you try, but it should not be held to the very last food you offer either.
Stay consistent. The key to helping children with food allergens is repeated exposure. Aim to give the food to your child a couple of times a week.
Offer the food early in the day. As you introduce common food allergens, try to offer it in the morning or afternoon. Avoid feeding them and going straight to bed since you may miss any possible reactions if they’re sleeping.
Consider family history. If a sibling has a food allergy, go ahead and introduce the food. There’s not a correlation between siblings and food allergies. If a parent has a food allergy, unless the child has the majority of their body covered in eczema - try to introduce the food as well.
Anything new can feel scary. The unknown is often scary. We recognize the science supports these new recommendations of introducing potentially allergenic foods at an early age, offering them regularly once tolerated and providing a variety of food options to your child.