Food Allergies

With weaning brings the new worry of food allergies – as if you don’t have enough to worry about! Even though allergies can crop up at any time in your life, annoyingly, it’s usually in babyhood that most allergies are present (due to an undeveloped immune system). So it’s particularly important to keep an eye out for any reations when starting to wean your baby.

What is a food allergy

It’s first important to differentiate between a food allergy, which is an immune response and can be fatal, and a food intolerance which generally just causes discomfort and slight illness.
A food allergy is when the immune system produces antibodies in response to a protein in a certain food that is usually considered harmless. Around 7% of babies and children have food allergies, and it’s most common when close family have an allergy, including asthma, hay-fever and Eczema.
The good news is that serious food allergies are relatively rare and most children grow out of their allergies by adulthood.

What are the symptoms of an allergy?

sick child wiping his noseThe immune system can react to an allergen either immediately, or with a delayed response. The most common symptoms of an allergy are:

  • Rash or hives often starting around mouth and nose and spreading across body
  • Mild swelling of face and lips
  • Sneezing, watery eyes and runny nose
  • Itchy or irritated tongue and throat
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Delayed symptoms can include:

  • Colic
  • Reflux
  • Upset tummy
  • Eczema

Severe Allergy

The most severe allergy response is call anaphylactic shock and it requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms of anaphylactic shock include: wheezing and breathing difficulties, swelling of the tongue, lips and face, rapid heart beat, rash and sweating. It can be fatal so if your child shows any of the above reactions you must call an ambulance immediately. The foods most likely to cause anaphylactic shock are peanuts/nuts and eggs.

Which foods to be aware of

If there is a history of allergies in your family you need to be extra vigilant when weaning your baby and giving him new foods. If you’re at all concerned it’s best to speak to your health visitor or GP before you start weaning.

The foods you want to be the most careful with are the following:

  • Peanuts and nuts
  • Eggs
  • Fish (mostly shell fish)
  • The other foods you might want to keep an eye on are:
  • Chocolate
  • Lactose (milk and diary products)
  • Soya
  • Seeds (sesame is the most common)
  • Citrus fruits, kiwis and berries

What’s the best way to wean my baby if I think they might be allergic?

It is still a subject of great debate, and evidence currently suggests that the best way to prevent allergy is to expose children to them a bit at a time from early on. The Department of Health suggests that you should breast feed exclusively for the first 6 months, which could reduce allergies occurring, and then expose your child to foods such as eggs, milk (formula to drink or cows milk in food) and fish one at a time to measure response and once weaning has been established (ie basic fruit and veg has been excepted).

However, if you think there might be a nut allergy, because of the possibility of anaphylactic shock, it’s probably best to keep nuts and nut products away from your child until they’re old enough to tell you if they’re having a strange response. Your health visitor will be able to give you more advice on this.

The four day rule

Some nutritionists suggest using the 4 day rule to gage if a food allergy or intollerence exists when weaning. This means trying out a single food for four days before moving onto the next. However, if you start weaning your child at 6 months, and by 7 months then need to be eating a range of fruit and veg and tarting on iron rich meat and fish, you could find yourself a little behind. So although introducing foods one at a time to begin with is the best way of spotting if there’s a reaction, the four day rule might be better suited for the allergy risk foods such as fish, berries, kiwis, wheat etc.

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Useful links

Food Standards Agency – allergies

Allergy UK

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