Food Allergies and
Sensitivities in Babies
When it comes to introducing top allergenic foods to babies, there are a few things to know before you get started.
First, it’s important to note that food allergies are on the rise. The CDC reported that from 1997 and 2011, food allergies in the US went up by 50% and that allergies to peanuts and tree nuts have tripled. Diagnosing a food allergy can also be complicated for parents as a lot of the symptoms are overlapping with the ones caused by a food sensitivity or an intolerance. And these symptoms might also be confused with common childhood concerns such as eczema, reflux, irritability, cold, rashes, constipation.
However, current studies indicate that delaying the introduction of highly allergenic foods after the first year of life might increase the possibility of developing a food allergy. Instead, research recommends offering these foods between 6-12 months to help babies’ immune systems develop a tolerance towards these foods.
While any food could potentially be the cause of an allergic reaction, the good news is that 8 top allergenic foods represent 90% of all reactions in children, which gives some guidance as to where to start and with which foods. These 8 foods are:
→ Cow’s milk (and dairy)
→ Tree nuts
It’s also important to take into consideration if your baby is considered high risk or not. This might be the case if they have:
- Allergies that run in the family
- History of eczema
If you think that your baby fits into one of these categories or if you have any doubts about the potential development of a food allergy, then I strongly advise you to consult with your baby’s healthcare provider for guidance on introducing allergenic foods safely.
How long to wait between introducing each new food?
For a long time it was recommended to wait a few days between each new single food. However, when it comes to what we call low risk foods (not part of top allergenic foods), this is no longer necessary and while I still recommend that you try them one by one for taste acquisition, feel free to introduce them at a quicker pace with no to just little time in between, at least for the first two weeks before you can start combining (Have a look at our guide “Which foods first for baby?” to help you navigate).
When it comes to high risk foods, it is recommended to introduce the top allergenic foods one at a time and to wait a minimum of 4 days before introducing another one. This gap will help you monitor for any adverse reaction and identify which food has triggered the reaction.
When is the best time to introduce top allergenic foods?
→ Make sure baby is feeling well, not sick or feeling weakened as they’re immune system might react differently.
→ Make sure you are in your own home and with them, not at a restaurant, not in daycare.
→ Ensure that your baby is at the beginning of a long awake period so you can check for any reaction. Not before a nap, and in particular not just before bedtime.
→ If your baby just started a new medication, wait at least two weeks.
Allergy vs sensitivity vs intolerance
The three are different conditions that require a different management.
Food allergies happen when the immune system recognizes proteins of a certain food as an harmful invader (Pathogen) and then responds with an immune attached called IgE response. That response happens within seconds up to 2 hours after eating the food.
The immune system will then develop an antibody that it will use to identify and destroy the invader so each time baby eats the allergen, they will experience allergy symptoms.
Food allergies can be life threatening and cause anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions).
Food sensitivities however, are non IgE reactions. They also provoke an immune response that will create antibodies but they are not life threatening, even though they can still be extremely uncomfortable. A major difference too is that the reaction is more delayed and symptoms appear from 2 hours to 3 days after exposure. It makes it harder to identify the triggering food but it also makes it very differentiable from allergies that way.
When it comes to intolerance, this concerns a problem digesting a food or the absence of the necessary enzymes to dissolve a food. Most common intolerances are lactose or gluten. Not to be confused with allergies. For example you could be allergic to wheat, but eat all kinds of other glutens. However if you have a gluten intolerance, you have to stop all gluten containing grains unless specifically labeled gluten free.
→ Introducing top allergenic foods before 12 months will reduce the risk of developing an allergy later in life.
→ The first time you give your baby food, do remember to choose a non-allergenic food.
→ Don’t assume that your baby is “in the clear ” after trying an allergenic food and not noticing any immediate adverse reaction. It can take a few introductions before symptoms are detectable.
→ Wait at least 4 days before reintroducing an allergenic food and continue to check symptoms. If an allergy is immediate, a food sensitivity could rise 3 days later.
→ Always test allergenic foods one at a time. For example, don’t mix peanut butter with yogurt or spread on bread.
If you’re interested in a step-by-step plan to introduce top allergenic foods to your baby or if you suspect any food sensitivity or intolerance, Book a consultation to get your personalized plan and step-by-step approach.