Tips On Preventing Food Allergies In Babies And Children

It is still uncertain why some children develop food allergies, but they are on the rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology suggests that generally most food allergies occur within the baby's first year. So, what can you as a parent of an infant do to protect your child from food allergies?
Tracy B. McGinnis

According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 4 out of 100 children in the U.S. have a food allergy. In fact, children (under age 5) had higher rates of reported food allergies than those children ages 5-17 years old. What can you do to prevent food allergies in your children?

Highly allergic foods
Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a renowned New York pediatrician and allergy specialist with Belilovsky Pediatrics says infants under the age of 12 months should avoid certain foods  “Infants should avoid allergens like fish, seafood, nuts, egg, honey (botulism hazard) and any choking-size foods."

According to the CDC these 8 foods “account for 90% of all food allergy reactions.”
• Cow’s milk
• Egg
• Peanut
• Tree nuts (walnuts, pecans almonds, cashews)
• Fish
• Shellfish
• Soybeans
• Wheat

Even though a lot of attention has been focused on peanut allergies, soy allergies can be concerning as well. Kaayla T. Daniel, who holds a PhD in Nutrition and is a board-certified clinical nutritionist (CCN), and author of  The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food,  specifically talks about the introduction of soy baby formula.

“The numbers of people with soy allergies have greatly increased over the past decade for a variety of reasons, including the introduction of the more allergenic genetically modified soybeans and the increased use of soy infant formula,” said Daniel. “The Israeli Health Ministry, French Food Agency, German Institute of Risk Assessment and British Dietetic Association have all issued warnings against the use of soy formula, advising that it never be used except as a last resort.”

Daniels says that soy formulas contain high levels of phytoestrogens, (plant estrogen), and although they’re not identical to human estrogens, Daniels say they have enough similarities to cause endocrine disruption. 

“Concerns about the effects on the baby's future fertility, brain development and thyroid function have led to the warnings,” says Daniels. “In addition to soy infant formula, babies should not be given soy foods or soy milk.” Daniels says that reducing exposure during the first year can make a huge difference in a baby’s ability to not develop soy allergies later on. “In that more than 60% of processed and packaged foods and nearly 100% of fast foods contain soy ingredients, soy allergies can be extremely challenging.”

What can you feed baby?
Marilyn K. Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, LD at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University says some infants may be ready to eat solids (rice cereal) as early as four months, while others may need to wait until they are six months old.  ”You want to look for their ability to sit up with help or support, as well as their ability to push up on their arms with straight elbows when placed on their tummy,” said Blasiar.

Watch your child closely when introducing new food.  “Remember to introduce solid foods one at a time, leaving two - three days between introductions,” suggests Blasiar. “This allows you to see if your child reacts to or is sensitive to a specific food.  Taste and texture is also being explored by your child, so allowing them to get used to one food at a time is important.”

Antonio Cain, a registered and licensed dietician and program coordinator for the Early Child Wellness Program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta says to start out feeding foods to baby that are the least likely to cause allergies. "The infant's first foods should include small, gradual feedings of fresh prepared foods at home or commercially prepared products of choice," said. "The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is to begin by introducing rice cereal, oat and barley as they are least likely to cause allergies. (Wheat cereals can be added around 8 months.) You may also begin to give pureed or soft-cooked vegetables and fruits. Again the amounts should be small and given gradually depending on your child's tolerance and developmental capacity." 

Cain said that although some blame the environment, others think that America has become "too clean depriving children of the chance to create a natural defense."  Cain said that more research is needed to determine why there has been an increase in the number of children who are developing allergies.

Symptoms- what to look for
CDC’s list of symptoms of food allergies can include one or more of the following:
• hives
• tingling in the mouth
• swelling in the tongue and throat
• difficulty breathing
• abdominal cramps
• vomiting or diarrhea
• eczema or rash
• coughing or wheezing
• loss of consciousness
• dizziness

Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child might have a food allergy. “The pediatrician can evaluate your child in more detail to see if he or she has a food allergy or food intolerance,” said Blasiar.  “Some symptoms to look for are skin rashes and diarrhea following the intake of the food. If the child does react to a food, call your pediatrician or go to an emergency room immediately.” 

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