Did you know there are 9 major proteins that trigger allergic reactions? With so many common prepared and packaged foods incorporating one or more of these allergens, introducing new foods to a baby can seem daunting. The Pullman Regional Hospital Pediatric Feeding Team dives into what you need to know so you can safely introduce common allergens to your child.
What are allergens?
By definition, a food allergy is an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs through exposure to a given food. This results in symptoms that can be severe and sometimes life threatening.
The 9 major proteins that trigger allergic reactions are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. Of course, there are many other foods that can trigger allergic reactions, but knowing the most common proteins can help guide parents to make informed decisions about introducing them.
Allergy versus Intolerance
Food intolerances are adverse health effects caused by foods. Unlike an allergy, a food intolerance does not involve the immune system and is often limited to digestive problems, but can present as skin eczema, headaches, lethargy, among other non-life threatening symptoms.
Lactose intolerance is a good example of the body not being able to properly break down the milk sugar lactose, which results in digestive discomfort such as gas, bloating, and abdominal cramping. Other common causes of food intolerance include irritable bowel syndrome and sensitivity to food additives/preservatives like sulfites, nitrates, MSG, and food dyes.
Nutritional management of food intolerance involves identifying the food that may be causing the symptoms, determining if the food should be completely avoided or if it can be tolerated in limited amounts, identifying steps that can aid in digestion, and offering suggestions for food alternatives.
When should common allergens be introduced to babies?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends early introduction to common allergens- this typically starts before 12 months of age. Studies have shown that these early introductions may help lower the risk of developing food allergies later on. It’s important to note that foods should be introduced in an age-appropriate form that is the right texture, size, and format for infants in their stage of development.
When introducing a new food, it should be introduced on its own. The new food should be offered in a small amount first. If no signs of an allergic reaction appear, parents can gradually increase the amount offered over time, while continuing to monitor for any new symptoms that could indicate an allergic reaction is occurring.
How do I know if my child is having an allergic reaction?
Allergic reactions to foods typically occur within 2 hours of consuming- and often begin to present themselves in a matter of minutes. When introducing new foods, it’s important to monitor your child for any noticeable symptoms or behavior changes including:
- Itchy or runny nose with or without sneezing
- Itchy mouth
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or repetitive coughing
- Isolated or widespread hives with itching
- Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
- Mild nausea or gastrointestinal discomfort
- Sudden tiredness or lethargy
- Changes in the color of skin
If you suspect your child is having an allergic reaction, discontinue access to the suspected food and seek emergency medical help.
Are food allergies genetic?
Babies can be genetically predisposed to allergy susceptibility, but that doesn’t mean all babies will inherit food allergies from their parents; this places an extra emphasis on introducing foods that family members have allergies to. Parents should consult with their primary care physician or a registered dietician for strategies and ways to go about introducing foods they are allergic to.
Children pick up cues from parents and caregivers when formulating their responses to new experiences. If you are feeling anxious or act nervous when introducing a new food, your child will pick up on that and it will influence how they feel about eating. It is desirable for babies to learn to enjoy eating and to feel safe doing so. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy the food introductory journey with your child!
What resources are available?
The Pediatric Feeding Team at Pullman Regional Hospital recognizes that each child has unique needs- they provide individualized nutrition education and counseling for children and families. They also work with your child’s primary care provider or pediatrician if additional medical support is needed.
For families looking for some extra resources and support, the Pediatric Feeding Team at Pullman Regional Hospital recommends checking out the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) materials.
You May Also Enjoy: