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Introducing Allergens to Babies: What You Need to Know

As a parent, you want to ensure that your baby is healthy and protected from harm. However, when it comes to food allergies, it can be difficult to know where to start. With the increasing prevalence of food allergies, it's important to be informed and proactive in helping your baby build a strong immune system. In this blog, we will explore the basics of food allergens and how to introduce them to your baby safely and effectively.


What are food allergens?


A food allergen is a substance that triggers an immune response in some people, causing an allergic reaction. Some of the most common food allergens include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish and sesame. These allergens can cause symptoms ranging from mild skin rashes to life-threatening anaphylaxis.


When should you introduce allergens to your baby?


Research indicates that introducing babies to foods that are commonly associated with allergies before their first birthday can potentially lower their risk of developing an allergy to those foods (1,2). It is important that all of these allergen foods are introduced within the 6 to 12 month-old window, even in children who are at high risk of developing an allergy. Although this feels like a small window of time, in reality you have 6 whole months to introduce these foods and you can do them in any order and at any time.


How to introduce allergens to your baby


1. Start with small amounts: When introducing a new food, start with a small amount and gradually increase over time. This will give your baby's immune system time to adjust and help you identify any potential allergic reactions.


2. Offer one new food at a time: When introducing a new food, it's best to offer it alone for a few days before introducing another new food. This will make it easier to identify any allergic reactions and track which food may be causing the reaction.


3. Watch for signs of an allergic reaction: Some signs of a food allergy include hives, coughing, wheezing, swelling of the face, difficulty breathing as well as vomiting or diarrhoea. If you suspect that your baby is having an allergic reaction, stop feeding them the food and seek medical attention immediately. Allergic reactions usually occur quickly – usually within minutes of ingesting the food concerned, however they can also take up to a few hours to develop.


4. Offer a variety of allergens: To help reduce the risk of developing a food allergy, it is important to offer your baby a variety of foods, including common allergens at least twice a week. This will help build a strong immune system and increase their tolerance to new foods. It is possible that if a baby is introduced to a food and then it is no longer a part of their diet, they may become susceptible to developing an allergy to that food.


Final thoughts


Introducing allergens to your baby can be a daunting task, but with the right information and support, it can be a safe and effective way to help build a strong immune system.


The following website is a great resource for help with introducing allergens safely to your baby: https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/fast-facts/introducing-foods-and-allergy-prevention


For more information on introducing solids, check out Little Eaters. An amazing resource created by myself and Amy Wallace from Little Dreamers to educate and support you with the knowledge you need to nourish and nurture your baby in the first few years. Click here to grab a copy!



References:


1. Castenmiller J, de Henauw S, Hirsch-Ernst K, et al. (2019). Appropriate age range for introduction of complementary feeding into an infant’s diet. European Food Safety Authority Journal. 17(9): 5780. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5780


2. Joshi PA, Smith J, Vale S, et al. (2019). The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy infant feeding for allergy prevention guidelines. Medical Journal of Australia 210(2): 89–93. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.12102




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