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Toddler licking a spoon

Your Baby and Food Allergies

By: Dr. Jung Park, PDC Pediatrics

The number of children with food allergies, especially peanut allergy, has risen tremendously in the last decade. Knowing this can be stressful for parents who are starting to introduce new foods to their baby – especially foods that are highly allergenic: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and wheat.

In the past, professionals believed the best way to avoid food allergies was to delay feeding infants allergenic foods for the first few years of life. But studies have shown that this method does not decrease your child’s risk of developing an allergy.

In fact, in 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed new guidelines recommending the early introduction of foods containing peanuts, like peanut butter, because it can reduce the risk of an allergy in children. Learn more about early peanut introduction here. 

So when is the best time to introduce your baby to highly allergenic foods, and how should you do it? Use the following steps as guidelines, but remember each child’s readiness depends on their development, so always talk to your pediatrician before making changes to your baby’s diet.

Step 1:

Determine if your baby has an increased risk of developing a food allergy. This may be the case if:

  • Your baby has had an allergic reaction to any other food.
  • Your infant has had eczema, whether mild, moderate, severe, or persistent.
  • Food allergies run in your family.

If your child meets any of these criteria, talk to your pediatrician before giving any highly allergenic foods like peanuts. They may recommend allergy testing or physician-supervised introduction of high-risk foods.

Step 2:

Start offering your baby solid foods that have a low allergy risk, like puréed fruits and vegetables, around 4 to 6 months. Single-grain cereals are also often introduced first. It’s important to make sure the food is in a form that’s safe for your baby to swallow. Allow your baby to try a new food every three to five days. Trying one at a time with a few days between gives you time to tell if one specific food causes a reaction.

Step 3:

Introduce highly allergenic foods. Babies who do not have an increased risk of developing allergies can start these foods after they have successfully eaten a few other solid foods. Add foods such as dairy products and peanuts to your baby’s diet in small amounts, and give them only at home, not at a restaurant or daycare.

Be sure they’re in forms that are safe for your baby’s age and development. For example, whole milk is not recommended for babies under 1 year, and whole peanuts should not be given to children until they’re able to chew them properly – about age 4. Try mixing some yogurt with a puréed fruit your baby likes, and thinning peanut butter with warm water before serving.

If your baby doesn’t have a reaction, it is recommended that you continue serving those foods to prevent an allergy from developing in the future.

Know the Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms usually develop within minutes, but can take up to two hours after eating. If any of these arise, stop giving your baby the food and talk to your pediatrician.

  • Hives or rash
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tightness of the throat

Some extreme reactions can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical attention if your baby experiences symptoms such as trouble breathing, wheezing, dizziness, or pale, clammy skin.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.