Food allergies can be as scary to new parents as the monster under the bed might be for your baby. But the worries with allergies can’t be solved as easily as figuring out which relative is letting her watch scary movies when they babysit. Food allergies are a very real danger that affect one out of every twenty-five children in the US, according to Centers for Disease Control data from 2007. Introducing your baby to new foods should be an exploration of her new taste-buds, but worrying about allergies can cut into the fun of that adventure.
Common wisdom about the right time to introduce your baby to allergenic foods has evolved significantly over the past few years. It used to be generally accepted that highly allergenic foods should be introduced later. The idea was that babies who were a little older would be better prepared to handle an allergic reaction, and that waiting might reduce the chance of allergies. Instead, studies published in 2013 and supported by other data since suggest that introducing allergenic foods like eggs, fish, and peanuts within your baby’s first 4 to 6 months could actually reduce her risk of food allergies, even if she has a family history of them. Evidence that introducing these foods early could help prevent allergies isn’t conclusive, but various medical bodies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, no longer recommend waiting to introduce these foods.
Before introducing potentially allergenic foods, it’s always a good idea to consult with your baby’s pediatrician about the best way to introduce these foods. If your baby comes from a family history of food allergies on either side, for example, or has a sibling with a serious food allergy, your pediatrician may recommend introducing those or other allergens at a certain time, or even while you and your baby are already in the hospital for a checkup.
There’s a good chance that your pediatrician will just recommend introducing potential allergens in your and your baby’s own time. The best way to introduce potential allergens is still one at a time every 3 to 5 days. This way, if your baby begins to show an allergic reaction, you’ll have a good idea of what’s to blame.
Like with anything your baby hasn’t tried before, she may not be a huge fan from the first bite. Combining a new food with something familiar, like a favorite mashed vegetable, could help convince your baby to give the new food a chance. Early exposure to potentially allergenic foods doesn’t mean they have to be the main dish, either - you can start by cutting up a hard-boiled egg for your baby, but you could also just use a pancake recipe that includes eggs - the trace amounts of egg protein are a fine first exposure.
If you believe your baby is showing signs of an allergic reaction, especially after introducing a new allergenic food, you should contact a healthcare professional.