Food allergies in babies is like navigating uncharted waters. Introducing solid foods to babies can be both exciting and challenging for parents. While there are many food items the infant may be ready to eat, parents need to be careful about every new food they introduce. Older children and adults can develop food allergies; however, food allergies in babies can be scary for new parents.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology confirms that over 7 percent of children aged two and under have food allergies. (Regis College 2019)
Food allergies in babies occur when the body has a harmful immune reaction to a particular food. The body identifies food as dangerous and reacts to fight it off.
Remember, it is different from food intolerance in which the ‘bad food’ does not affect the immune system. (T C Li and Moore 2020)
In most cases, the child is likely to have food allergies if:
- There is a family history of allergies
- Either of the parents has some food allergies
- Has a history of eczema (an inflammatory skin condition)
There are over 150 allergenic foods; some of these foods may not as allergenic as others. The eight common food allergies in babies are:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts (such as hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds)
Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies in Babies
Food allergy symptoms often develop between a few minutes to a couple of hours after consuming a food. The most common signs include rashes, itching, and shortness of breath. Food allergies in babies can also result in vomiting, abdominal pain, or nausea. In other cases, the baby’s tongue or lips may swell as well.
If your baby is having these symptoms, don’t feed your child any solid food temporarily and consult your pediatrician.
In extreme cases, a potentially dangerous reaction to food allergy causes anaphylaxis. Exposure to any allergen makes the body hypersensitive and overproduces certain body chemicals. These chemicals react and send shocks to a child’s body, lowers blood pressure, and make breathing difficult.
In severe cases, a potentially fatal reaction to food allergy causes anaphylaxis. The reaction affects more than one organ system and can get worse fast. Call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.
When you reach the hospital, the infant is likely to be given epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline. If you have already given a dose at home to your child, don’t forget to inform your healthcare professional. (American Academy of Pediatrics 2019)
How to Identify and Monitor Food Allergies in Babies
- Start solids when your baby is healthy – Choose a time when you know your baby is not having any abdominal pain or has any other ailment. When your child is healthy, the body is ready to accept any solid food faster, and it will be easier to diagnose if the child got a reaction, if any, because of food.
- Introduce solid foods steadily – Start with single-ingredient food at a time as appropriate for the infant’s developmental readiness. You can choose to give fruits like pears, avocado, banana or apples, green vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash, boiled rice, oats, etc. This slow process allows parents to identify and eliminate the food item that causes an allergic reaction.
- Mind the gap between introducing allergens – As suggested by the pediatrician, the parents or caregiver can introduce with one allergenic followed by another periodically. There should be a gap of between 3-5 days between each potentially allergenic food. The objective is to check the child’s tolerance to digest that food and if he/she is getting any reaction.
- Keep a tab on consumption – Ensure that an adult monitors your child for at least 2 hours after giving the meal. Make a log of everything your baby eats for a few weeks to watch for any signs of a reaction. And if you notice any related symptoms like stomach pain, skin rash, etc., speak to your doctor and inform them about the pattern.
- Be careful with packaged food – Until you know for sure, don’t introduce any packaged food in your child’s diet that is likely to have any allergen. Read the labels carefully to rule out any of the common food allergens present in that product.
Food allergies in babies are common and mostly manageable. The smartest thing to do is not ignore any of the allergy symptoms, even mild. Diagnosing any allergy on time will also help identify additional allergies that the child may develop in the future.
Consult your pediatrician, an allergist, and people who look after your child, such as a caretaker, babysitter, or a daycare center, to help manage your baby’s allergies.
Regis College, Doctor of Nursing Practice. “What Every Parent Should Know About Food Allergies in Babies and Children.” Regis College Online, 9 Oct. 2019, online.regiscollege.edu/blog/what-every-parent-should-know-about-food-allergies-in-babies-and-children/.
T C Li, James. “Food Intolerance Versus Food Allergy: AAAAI.” Edited by Andrew Moore, The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 28 Sept. 2020, www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/food-intolerance.
Segal, Dr. Manav. “How to Help Your Baby Avoid Developing Food Allergies.” Chestnut Hill Allergy & Asthma Associates, LLC, Philadelphia-Allergy.com, 2020, www.philadelphia-allergy.com/2020/04/20/how-to-help-your-baby-avoid-developing-food-allergies/.
Brennan, Dan. “Baby Food Allergies: Identifying and Preventing Them.” WebMD, WebMD, 23 Mar. 2019, www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/introducing-new-foods#1.
Huhn, Jessica. “Is My Baby Having an Allergic Reaction? and What Parents Need to Know About Early Allergen Introduction.” Ready, Set, Food!, 26 Aug. 2019, readysetfood.com/blogs/community/is-my-baby-having-an-allergic-reaction.
American Academy of Pediatrics, HealthyChildren.org. “Anaphylaxis in Infants & Children.” HealthyChildren.org, 30 Sept. 2019, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/Anaphylaxis.aspx.