While the causes of baby allergies to food are complex and linked to several factors, the phenomenon itself is now well-identified: the organism comes into contact with a substance it does not recognise (or no longer recognises as safe) and activates its defence system in order to eliminate the intruder. While there are many different symptoms, the solution is to eliminate the ingredient from your baby's diet and reintroduce it slowly at a later date. This is best done under the supervision of a dietitian and paediatric allergist. Here are some answers to key questions you may have on the subject.
Does breastfeeding help to prevent baby food allergies?
Generally speaking, breastfeeding may reduce the risk of food allergies.
In high-risk families with a history of allergies (father, mother, etc.), particularly allergies to proteins found in cow’s milk, breastfeeding is strongly recommended. Ideally, your baby should be exclusively breastfed in early life. From the point of view of the immune system, breastfeeding makes your baby more resistant. The digestive system also matures more effectively. It is beneficial for solid foods to be introduced gradually while your baby is still being breastfed.
What symptoms do baby food allergies produce?
Depending on the food responsible, symptoms to look out for can include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, hives, slight swelling of the lips and tongue, eczema, asthma and recurrent ear, nose and throat infections, not forgetting possible disruption to the child’s growth rate.
What are the main allergenic foods?
From the introduction of solids until three years of age the four main allergenic foods are: eggs, gluten, peanuts and cow’s milk proteins.
If your child is diagnosed with an egg allergy, note that many food products are manufactured using ingredients containing eggs – read the label and list of ingredients carefully. A dietitian can help teach you the best way to read the food label. Always introduce cooked egg to your baby.
Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as rye, oats, wheat (including bread wheat, spelt and kamut) and barley. As soon as a gluten allergy is diagnosed, all products derived from these cereals must be eliminated from the diet. Until a diagnosis is made it is recommended gluten is introduced from six months even if there is a family history of allergy. Doing so, with the added protection of breastfeeding, may decrease the chances of developing Coeliac Disease and this is an area of active research.
Like eggs and gluten, peanuts are present in many industrial food products not designed for children. It is up to you to read the label in order to detect the slightest presence and avoid them if your baby has a confirmed allergy, otherwise, you may introduce small tastes of natural peanut butter during solids introduction.
Cow’s milk proteins
Allergy to cow’s milk proteins is common, particularly during infancy. Although an allergy to cow’s milk will complicate the manner in which you feed your baby, your allergist and regular healthcare professional will be able to advise and help you throughout his nutritional development. Remember your baby may outgrow the problem.
What you should know:
- Always cook fruit and vegetables thoroughly (before reducing them to a purée or compote) as cooking can reduce their allergenic properties;
- Introduce new foods one at a time – preferably in the morning so you are alert to any adverse reactions over the course of the day;
- If possible, continue to breastfeed during the introduction of solid foods
Who can diagnose an allergy?
In the first instance, your GP or paediatrician may prescribe a blood test. It is then recommended that you consult an allergist. You can even find specialised infant allergists.
Can allergies be cured?
No medical cure currently exists for food allergies. However, it is possible that your baby will outgrow their allergy so your doctor may challenge your child at specific time points to check this, under medical supervision.