Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby
The HealthLinkBC resource, Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby, recommends discussing your family history with your doctor to find out if your baby is at increased risk of food allergy if you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever. The website defines a food allergy as: “A food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakes a particular food as harmful. Once a person has developed a food allergy, an allergic reaction occurs every time the food is eaten.” While the website notes that children can outgrow some food allergies, in adults, food allergies are more often permanent. “About 5% of babies and 3-4% of adults have food allergies.”
Reactions often appear within minutes after exposure to the food, including:
- Hives, swelling, redness and rash
- Stuffy or runny nose with itchy, watery eyes
Although less common, symptoms such as vomiting, sometimes combined with diarrhea, can also occur hours later.
Severe symptoms of food allergy require immediate attention, including:
- Swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat
- Hives that are spreading
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing or hoarse voice
- Pale or blue colour of the face or lips
- Faintness, weakness or passing out.
Call 911 or the local emergency number right away if signs of a severe allergic reaction occur.
Links between eczema and food allergies:
- The website states that: “Most babies with mild eczema do not have food allergies. Some babies who have moderate to severe eczema do have food allergies, but this does not mean that a food allergy has caused their eczema. Instead, genetic factors seem to be the major cause of eczema. Having eczema may increase risk for food allergies. Keeping eczema under good control might help prevent food allergies.” The website recommends discussing your baby’s eczema with your doctor, who will refer you to a pediatric allergist or pediatric dermatologist if help with a diagnosis or a treatment plan is needed.
Steps you can take:
- Eat a healthy diet while you are pregnant that includes foods from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide www.healthdanada.gc.ca/foodfuide
- Breastfeed your baby: “Exclusive breastfeeding for 4 to 6 months or longer may help prevent food allergies in babies who are at increased risk, but more research is required to prove whether or not this is true.”
- Choose the right infant formula if you cannot breastfeed. “If you need to use formula, consider a modified infant formula during the firs 4 to 6 months of life. Modified formulas may reduce the risk of eczema in babies who are at increased risk of allergic conditions when compared to regular cow milk-based or soy-based formulas. An extensively hydrolyzed casein formula is likely more effective for eczema prevention compared to partially hydrolyzed whey formula.”
- Avoid unnecessary delays when introducing solid foods
- The website notes that, “in the past, some health professionals recommended delaying the introduction of fish and eggs and foods that contain milk, peanuts and tree nuts to help reduce the risk of allergies to these foods, but this practice has not proved to be effective.”
- “Health Canada recommends waiting until 6 months of age before offering solid foods…. Start with iron-fortified infant cereals and cooked, tender, finely minced meat, fish and poultry. They are good sources of iron. Add new foods one at a time. If your baby tolerates a new food, continue to offer it…. Wait a few days before adding each new food.”
- “At 1 year, your baby should be eating a variety of foods and can eat many family meals.”
- If you smoke, stop smoking: “Smoking or being around second-hand smoke while you are pregnant increases your child’s risk of breathing problems. Exposing your baby to second-hand smoke after birth also increases risk.”