Feeding our babies their first spoonful of solid food is a happy milestone. But while we look forward to seeing their delight with every bite, the likelihood of an allergic response can be worrying. Let’s arm ourselves with information instead! Here are some steps you can do to lower the chances of food allergies in babies.
Ways to Avoid Food Allergies in Babies
Food allergy is an immune response to some food items. Protein sources like cow’s milk, shellfish and nuts are some common allergens. The body mistakenly treats these proteins as threats, resulting in food allergy symptoms like swollen lips, eczema, itchy mouth and breathing difficulty.
Your doctor is the best person to go to for expert advice if you think your baby has a food allergy. They will conduct allergy testing to give you a proper diagnosis. However, you can also do something to reduce risk or avoid this altogether.
Eat a Variety of Foods During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Pregnant and breastfeeding mums in the past would avoid allergenic food to lessen the risk. However, up to now, there is no evidence-based advice that supports this eating practice. A 2019 study even concluded that intake of wheat, milk and tree nuts lowers the incidence of food allergies in children.
That is why health experts recommend that mums should aim for a healthy pregnancy by eating a balanced diet instead. Research also shows that allergy-causing foods can transfer to the amniotic fluid and breast milk. In turn, it helps introduce food components to babies and make them less sensitive to allergies.
So, unless you are allergic to certain foods, enjoy a varied diet throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. You can learn more about maternal diet through the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) guidelines.
Take Good Care of Your Gut
One way to keep your gut healthy is to eat prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods. Prebiotics come from oats, barley, legumes, pistachios and cashews. Yoghurt, cheese and sauerkraut, on the other hand, are sources of probiotics. They are also available in various formulations like powder, sachet or capsule.
Both of these food components can promote the growth of good bacteria in our gut. Aside from aiding in digestion, these also ensure a balance of microbes in our intestinal system. This microbic stability, in turn, keeps our gut immunity up, which can help form our babies’ defences against allergens.
Breastfeed Your Baby if Possible
Breast milk is the best food for your baby, especially during the first 4 to 6 months of age. On top of its nutrient value, breast milk also contains antibodies or immunoglobulins that boost our little one’s immune system.
These proteins protect against infections plus reduce the risk of allergies in babies, especially with milk. Once you start feeding solids to your baby, it’s best to continue breastfeeding, too, to avoid allergy development. For busy mums, this guide on pumping and storing breast milk can be a big help.
Start Feeding Solids at the Right Age
Solids are the usual culprits of food allergies in babies. But, ironically, the most effective way to overcome allergic reactions is to expose them to different food items early on. Doctors recommend that mums start feeding solids to babies at 4 to 6 months of age. And when you do, make sure to include allergenic foods in their diet as well.
That’s because researchers found that the introduction of common food allergens like peanuts within the first 12 months of life can significantly lower allergy risk. If your baby can safely eat egg, soy, fish or wheat, ensure regular exposure, too, to maintain tolerance. You can check on the oral trial guide from this fact sheet, so you’ll know when and how to give new foods to babies.
Prep Tummy-Friendly Foods First
Your baby’s tolerance to solid foods develops in stages. So, to keep food allergy symptoms at bay, start with simple meals like liquid cereal. Then as your little one grows, introduce fruit and vegetable purees next. The signs of teeth growth indicate that you can now level up to soft foods. My baby food guide should help you pick the right food choice and know when and how to give it.
Introduce New Foods Early, Gradually and Often
Aside from food variety, your pacing in introducing solids is also crucial in reducing food allergies in babies. When you give new foods to your child, give them one at a time. That way, you can quickly identify the potential allergen. The key is to start slow, make it a habit then keep at it.
Here’s a strategy you can try. Add a new food to your baby’s menu on Day 1. Wait for Day 3 to 5 before introducing another one, then repeat. Gradually grow your list of “safe foods”, and alternately serve new meals and favourites.
Give Yourself and Your Baby Ample Vitamin D
Did you know that 1 in 4 adults in Australia has vitamin D deficiency? Sadly, experts also associated low vitamin D levels with high allergy risk among infants and children. That’s because this vitamin plays a vital role in strengthening our immune system. When we have insufficient vitamin D, our immunity decreases, and allergic reactions become more likely.
So, while pregnant, make sure to keep your vitamin D levels in check, then consult your doctor or dietitian if supplementation is necessary. After giving birth, your paediatrician should give you medical advice about vitamin D drops. And when your baby is ready for solids, make sure to include vitamin D-rich foods in his diet.
Reducing food allergies in babies is not all about giving them the best type of solids at the right time. Mums need to take care of themselves, too. Also, your and your baby’s immunity should be in top condition to combat all types of health threats. More importantly, make sure to continue strengthening your children’s immune systems even when they are older. These immune-boosting tips should help you keep your kids healthy and protected.