Baby Baby feeding and allergies Food allergies and intolerences in babies

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Food allergies and intolerences in babies

Problem foods

One of the most common concerns when introducing new foods into a baby or toddler’s diet is the risk of a bad reaction. Although food allergies and intolerances are relatively rare, it’s important to be aware of the signs and to follow certain steps to help identify any potential problems.

Food allergy or intolerance?

It’s easy to confuse these two types of reaction but they are very different things, although they share some of the same symptoms.

A food allergy is an adverse immune reaction to the proteins in a food that are normally harmless to the non-allergic person. It occurs because the immune system believes the allergenic food is harmful, so it mounts an attack which leads to allergic symptoms like swelling, wheezing and itching. These reactions can either be very rapid or delayed over a few hours or days, depending on the type of allergy. The more rapid reactions are easier to diagnose as they it’s simple to trace them back the food recently eaten.

A food intolerance is when unpleasant symptoms occur after eating a substance that your body cannot deal with. An example is lactose intolerance; where some individuals don’t produce any or enough of the enzyme ‘lactase’ which is needed to digest lactose. Undigested lactose can cause unpleasant symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating. An intolerance does not involve the immune system, and the reaction is usually less rapid; happening a few hours or even days after the food was eaten. Other examples of intolerances are pharmacological reactions; tyramine in aged cheese can lead to migraines and caffeine is know to cause jitteriness.

It’s always best to consult your doctor if you’re worried as reactions to food should be diagnosed by a professional.

Do allergies and intolerances last forever?

Fortunately, many children tend to outgrow their allergies and some intolerances are temporary, but the likelihood often depends on the food in question. For example, the majority of children outgrow allergies to cows’ milk, although a few will retain the allergy up to 6-8 years or even into adulthood. In contrast, many children allergic to nuts will remain allergic throughout their life. There’s no set of rules when it comes to allergies, as it can vary from one child to another depending on the individual and the food they are allergic to.

Take it slowly

Foods with a higher risk of allergy should be introduced gradually. Try new foods every two to three days, so that you can monitor whether your baby reacts to them. Another tip is to introduce new foods during weekday mornings. It may sound a little ridiculous but if you do need to seek help, that’s when it’s most likely to be readily available.

Foods to avoid during the early stages

Some foods are more allergenic than others. For this reason it’s best to wait until your child is a little older until they try them, definitely until they’re at least 6 months old. Take special care when introducing them into your child’s diet and be especially wary of any changes in their health or behaviour. Foods which have a greater potential to cause allergies include:

  • Wheat based foods and other foods containing gluten
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

The guidelines on introducing peanuts to infants have recently changed. It’s now considered safe to give peanuts and foods containing peanuts to babies over 6 months old, although if there is an immediate (parent or sibling) family history of allergy you are advised to consult a healthcare professional before introducing them. It’s a good idea to introduce any potentially allergenic foods one at a time to allow you to spot any reactions. And remember that feeding whole nuts of any kind to children under 5 years of age is not advised as they can be a choking hazard. If you are worried, ask your doctor for their advice.

It is recommended that cows’ milk isn’t suitable as a main drink for infants under the age of 12 months. This is more to do with the overall composition of cows’ milk (e.g. an insufficient level of iron for infants), rather than the risk of allergy.

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