In the last few decades, food allergy has become a rising concern. Hospital admissions for life-threatening allergic reactions to foods (known as anaphylaxis) increased by 46% over five years between 2015 to 2019. It’s also estimated that around 10% of infants and 4 – 8% of children in Australia have food allergies.
Dr Jennifer Koplin from Murdoch Children’s research institute says:
“Most children will grow out of allergies to foods like egg and milk, while allergies to nuts and seafood are often lifelong. The foods an infant eats in the first year of life has long been thought to play a role in whether or not they develop a food allergy, although it is only recently that people have started to study this more thoroughly.”
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Here's what you should consider when introducing solids to your little one.
When should I start introducing solids?
The Australian Society Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) guidelines say to introduce solid foods around 6 months and not before 4 months. Breastfeeding has also been shown to help reduce the risk of allergic reactions later in life, so if possible, you should continue to breastfeed your baby whilst introducing solid foods.
What about allergy causing foods?
It is recommended that babies be given common allergy causing foods by 12 months, including egg and peanut. A good place to start is with soft, age appropriate foods like a well-cooked egg or smooth peanut butter. In fact, recent studies have shown that delayed introduction of these foods can increase the chance of developing a food allergy, so make sure you include them as you start weaning your baby.
How should I introduce these?
Start small and introduce one allergy food at a time. That way, if your baby has an allergic reaction it will be easier to identify. Mix a small amount of this food in with your baby’s usual meal. For example, a quarter teaspoon of well-cooked egg in with some vegetable puree. You can gradually increase the amount given if your baby is not having any reactions. If you want to test a type of food before your baby eats it, you can rub a small amount of the food on the inside of your baby’s lip. If there is no reaction after a few minutes, you can try giving it to them to eat. Don’t rub food on your baby’s skin, as this will not indicate whether your baby will have an allergic reaction.
What am I looking for?
Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually develop within 30 minutes. Mild symptoms often include:
- Swelling of the lips, eyes or face
- Hives or welts (bumps) on the skin
- Tingling of the mouth
- Red rash around the mouth
- Tummy pains
Look for any change in your baby’s wellbeing (becoming very unsettled) soon after eating a new food. These symptoms could be indicative of an allergic reaction and it is best to consult your doctor.
When should I worry?
More serious symptoms can indicate anaphylaxis. You should call an ambulance immediately if you spot any signs of a severe allergic reaction such as:
- Difficult/noisy breathing
- Your baby becomes pale and floppy
- Tongue swelling
- Swelling/tightness in the throat
- Wheeze or persistent cough
- Difficulty talking and /or hoarse voice
These symptoms could indicate an anaphylactic reaction and will usually occur quickly, in a matter of minutes. However, if you spot any of these symptoms, even a little while after feeding you should not hesitate to contact your doctor.
What if my baby does have a food allergy?
If you do notice any kind of reaction you should speak with your doctor so the allergy is properly diagnosed and managed.