We often get asked at what age little ones can be introduced to seafood or nuts and parents are often astonished when we reply:
“You can introduce these foods from 6 months”!
Historically, you may have been encouraged to wait before introducing foods which are high allergens as this will help prevent your child developing an allergy to it. This has never made any sense to us, for reasons we will explain later, but it’s down to basic physiology.
“There is no evidence that waiting until your child is older will prevent them from developing a food allergy.”
Now research conducted by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology shows that actually following these rules and delaying exposure to these foods may actually increase your little one’s chances of developing an allergy to them.
OLD NEWS: Introducing high allergen foods when weaning may INCREASE risk of allergy developing
LATEST NEWS: Introducing high allergen foods when weaning may REDUCE risk of allergy developing
To be honest, we don’t actually know but we have a theory:
During the first 12 months, your little one’s immune system is developing rapidly. It is working out which things coming in to the body are goodies and baddies. It’s like a game of cops and robbers (but with food it’s a case of mistaken identity!)
When a new substance (such as a prawn) is eaten, the immune system, which is like a big army of cops, approach the prawn to see if they recognise it. If it’s the first time they have seen it they presume it’s the enemy (bacteria or virus) and so attack it. The cops now know the prawn so when he comes back again another day, chances are it’s a new friend so they will probably call off the attack.
However, it may take a few meetings for a true friendship to form and the attack to be abandoned.
After 12 months, the immune system has matured and decides it’s probably got enough new friends and there’s no room for more and so is more likely to attack new baddies which come in.
Now, we’re not saying that ALL new foods introduced after 12 months are going to be treated as a baddy, but some foods just look suspicious and more likely to be attacked. Peanuts, Eggs, Shellfish all look a bit dodgy and so the immune system is more likely to attack them –hence they are common allergens. Broccoli and Cucumber however look very innocent and are normally allowed to pass through without any bother.
Now, I know we’ve simplified this but hopefully this helps you understand why possibly introducing these prime suspects before 12 months could help the body recognise them as friends and not attack them – thus preventing allergies.
"Insufficient evidence exists for delaying introduction of solid foods, including potentially allergenic foods, beyond 4 to 6 months of age, even in infants at risk."
What are common allergens?
· Cow’s milk
· Seeds & Nuts (including peanuts and peanut products)
· Fish & Shellfish
So how do I introduce common allergen foods?
This information comes from the Department of Health (UK):
· Always wait until your little one is 6 months
· Introduce one common allergen food at a time
· Offer them in very small amounts (1 tsp / handful)
· Watch for signs of an allergic reaction
What are signs of an allergic reaction?
· Skin reaction: Red rash, blotchy, itchy, swelling of the mouth, itchy eyes
· Stomach upset
· Runny nose
· Breathing difficulties
If ANY of these occur, talk to your GP. If you think your is baby is suffering a severe allergic reaction, always call 999 and ask for a paramedic.
Felicity's Story: When my little munchkin was 8 months old he developed an allergic reaction to a food. I still have no idea what food it was but it began by my noticing a small rash on his cheek which rapidly spread to his eyebrows and forehead. We went to urgent care and the GP prescribed anti-histamine and that was that. I've popped a picture of him below to see what he looked like during this reaction.
NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. 2010. “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel.” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Volume 126, Issue 6, Supplement, Pages S1-S58, December.
Reddy, Sumathi. “Food Allergy Advice for Kids: Don’t Delay Peanuts, Eggs.” The Wall Street Journal 4 March, 2013.