There has been a great deal of speculation in recent years that allergies may be on the rise. This is especially alarming news for new parents who are ready to introduce their baby to solid foods. So, how accurate are these speculations? And, as new moms and dads, how do we safely start our little love on solids?
The answer to the first question is tricky. Scientists have had a hard time gathering data on whether or not there’s a legitimate rise in allergies in recent years, because most so-called allergies are self-diagnosed, and the symptoms of allergy are easily confused with other, less threatening conditions. For example, there is a significant difference between a milk allergy and an intolerance to lactose: at worst, an allergy can cause anaphylaxis, whereas an intolerance will just cause a lot of discomfort.
When the media reports widely on the occurrence of a specific allergy, it has a psychological affect on people – we can become hyper-vigilant and mistake mild or unrelated symptoms for an allergy. Although it might seem better to be safe than sorry, the problem with avoiding all potentially allergenic foods is that we would miss out on a world of nutritional benefits (not to mention deliciousness!).
To complicate matters more, arriving at a medical diagnosis of an allergy is difficult. There isn’t one simple blood or skin test you can take that will identify your allergies. Food allergies are usually diagnosed using an oral food challenge, which involves introducing small amounts of certain foods under medical supervision and checking for symptoms.
However, there are hints in amongst all of this uncertainty around allergies as to how, as parents, we can best protect our tiny ones.
What Is An Allergy?
First thing’s first, we need to understand what an allergy is. Simply put, an allergy is a damaging immune response to a normally non-threatening food or other substance.
Allergic reactions to foods might cause symptoms including: hives and swelling; difficulty breathing; rash, flushing, and itching; vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastro-intestinal symptoms; tingling lips; and, in the worst-case scenario, anaphylaxis.
Of course, diarrhea and gas may indicate a different type of condition, so it’s best to consult your pediatrician about symptoms like these before assuming it’s an allergic reaction.
Properly diagnosing an allergy is important, especially when your little one starts day care and school and you aren’t there 24/7 to closely monitor all the foods and other allergens he comes into contact with.
So, bearing these things in mind, there are some sensible ways parents can safely start to introduce solids with the goal of encouraging a varied and nutritious diet and a strong immune system, while being vigilant about identifying potential allergies.
Establishing A Good Foundation
If you are able to do it, breastfeeding can offer some protection from food allergies, as well as asthma and eczema. There are also some great hypoallergenic formulas available for mamas who aren’t breastfeeding, and who have reason to be concerned about allergies, such as a family history.
These two early feeding strategies, if maintained for at least the first six months of life, may prevent food and other allergies later on.
Generally, babies are ready to start solid foods when they have good head support and muscle control, which usually happens at four to six months.
Starting On Solids
When you and little love are ready to take the plunge into solids, keep it simple and start with a little rice cereal and move up every three to five days to different vegetables and fruits, until she has the basics down. Talk to your pediatrician about a schedule for getting started, and how to avoid too many sugary foods that can result in bad habits.
Although there are no guarantees, a strong foundation of breast milk or hypoallergenic formula for at least the first six months, and basic foods from four to six months onwards, will prepare your baby to start trying potentially allergenic foods.
Starting On Foods That May Cause Allergies
There is no hard and fast rule for the right time to introduce potentially allergenic foods to your baby’s diet. Twenty years ago the recommendation was to wait until after twelve months of age, but more up-to-date studies have shown that to be unhelpful and even suggest starting baby on these foods earlier rather than later.
If you have a family history of specific food allergies, it’s a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about the best time to start your baby on those foods.
When starting your little love on more complicated solids like eggs, cheese and yoghurt, fish, and nut butters, take it nice and slowly. If you introduce multiple new foods in one day, and she has an allergic reaction, then you won’t know which food caused it. Instead, try just one new food each week.
What To Do If You Observe Allergy Symptoms
Naturally, we don’t want our little love to be exposed to anything that could cause discomfort. However, instead of jumping to conclusions and eliminating foods from his diet, it’s important to be sure when something is an allergy, an intolerance, or a totally unrelated condition, so that you can be prepared and treat the symptoms correctly.
So, if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, take little love to your pediatrician to get to the bottom of it.
Finally, it’s heartening to know that children who are allergic to milk and eggs usually outgrow these allergies, and 1 in 5 children outgrow their peanut allergies. So, to make sure your cutie isn’t unnecessarily missing out on the good stuff, you can also talk to your pediatrician about annual allergy check-ups.