Food allergies are a scary thing for a lot of parents because chances are you won’t know if your baby is allergic until she tries a certain food. While the whole process can be a bit nerve-wracking, the good news is we’re here to help with information on common food allergens, how to introduce them and how to recognize a reaction.
Once your baby is ready for solid foods, it’s important to introduce 1 new food at a time and to wait 2 to 3 days before introducing another. If your baby tries too many new foods at once, and he has a reaction, you’ll have a hard time figuring out which food caused it.
After introducing a new food, watch for signs of an allergic reaction:
- Skin: Hives, rash, redness, swelling or eczema
- Tummy troubles: Vomiting, diarrhea or stomach pain
- Respiratory: Wheezing, shortness of breath, tightening of the throat, runny nose or sneezing
Call your pediatrician if your child is having any of these symptoms. If your baby shows signs of breathing trouble or other respiratory problems, call 911 right away.
Once your baby has gotten the hang of eating solid foods and has shown she can handle things like veggies, proteins, fruits and grains, you can start introducing common food allergens. Many parents believe that you need to wait until a baby is older to introduce potential food allergens, but research shows that introducing food allergens as early as 6 months can actually reduce the risk of developing an allergy for that food. So, bring it on!
Most food allergies in children are caused by 8 food groups: dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Some kids are allergic to fruits and veggies, but those allergies aren’t as common.
Some formula-fed babies are first introduced to dairy through milk proteins in their formula. If breastfeeding moms consume milk products, then their babies are exposed to dairy products through breastmilk. If that’s the case, introducing dairy foods to your baby should be a breeze. Either way, when you’re ready to formally introduce dairy products, plain yogurt is a great starter. Once your baby can handle some more intense textures (usually around the 8- or 9-month mark), you can add shredded (or small pieces of) cheese to her diet.
While your baby can try many other potential food allergens at around 6 months, something that needs to wait to make its debut is cow’s milk. It’s OK for your baby to get dairy from yogurt, cheese or foods prepared and cooked with milk, but drinking plain cow’s milk is too much for her tiny tummy to handle. It can irritate her stomach and keep her from absorbing the iron she needs to grow, so if you wish to introduce cow’s milk, wait until after her first birthday.
Peanut and tree nut allergies tend to get a lot of attention as the numbers show more and more kids are developing them. Researchers found the number of kids with a peanut allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008. In order to help prevent peanut allergies, the American Academy of Pediatrics developed these guidelines for introducing peanuts safely:
- Children with severe eczema and/or an egg allergy: Talk to your pediatrician about getting an allergy evaluation before introducing foods with peanuts as early as 4 to 6 months.
- Children with mild to moderate eczema: Introduce foods with peanuts around 6 months.
- Children with no eczema or any food allergies: Introduce food with peanuts as your baby is able to eat a variety of solid foods.
Some children who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts. So be careful when introducing these allergens as well.
Safety Tip: Whole nuts (both tree nuts and peanuts) and nut butter can be choking hazards for babies and toddlers. A safer way to introduce nuts to your baby is to mix 1 teaspoon of peanut butter or nut butter (e.g., cashew or almond butter) with 1 teaspoon of warm water. Next, add the watered-down mixture to infant cereal, oatmeal or even in some mashed banana.
Fun Fact: Peanuts are technically legumes. What does this mean? They are in the same family as peas and beans; however, most children with a peanut allergy are still able to eat peas and beans and other legumes.
Wheat, soy, eggs, fish and shellfish are also common food allergens. Each of these foods has its own recommendations when it comes to your baby’s first taste.
Wheat. Rice and oats are usually the first grains for your baby because they’re less likely to cause allergies than other grains. Once your baby has shown he can handle rice and oatmeal, try introducing wheat through an infant wheat cereal.
You can get creative and add wheat to things like applesauce, yogurt, and fruit and veggie purees (assuming your baby has already tried each of the foods you’re mixing wheat with and didn’t have a reaction).
Soy. Some babies get their first exposure to soy if they are given soy-based formula. If your baby is not in this category, cooked pureed soybeans are a great first food when bringing soy to baby’s table.
Eggs. Mashed egg yolk is a good first food for baby; however, the allergy potential actually comes from the proteins found in the egg white. You can mix in mashed pieces of egg white or scramble a whole egg if your baby is ready for finger foods.
Even though most children with an egg allergy are usually allergic to the egg white, it’s safer to avoid the whole egg if your baby is allergic—as well as processed foods made with eggs—to steer clear of a reaction.
Fish and Shellfish. If you’re giving your baby fish, start with varieties that are low in mercury. Be sure to offer 1 type of fish or shellfish at a time. These can include:
- Canned chunk light tuna (packed in water)
Another thing to remember with fish is to cook it until it is completely done. Raw or undercooked fish can contain bacteria or viruses that can hurt your baby. You can always puree the cooked fish or shellfish until it is smooth and add water, breastmilk or formula to make a thinner consistency.