The Baby Guide: Baby’s Food Allergies and Sensitivities
Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children in the US according to Food Allergy Research & Education. With that high of a statistic, it’s no wonder parents are concerned about their baby developing a food allergy! Fortunately, the latest pediatric guidelines explain how to lower an infant’s risk of developing food allergies — and it’s within a parent’s abilities.
What’s the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities?
First, it’s crucial to understand the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities:
Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction and can be very serious. Even a tiny amount of food can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction in a child with a food allergy. Food allergies require a medical test to diagnose.
Symptoms in infants can include developing hives, swelling in the face or mouth, forceful vomiting, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. Call 911 if any of these symptoms appear during or shortly after your child ate.
Food sensitivities/intolerances happen when the digestive system is unable to break down food properly, often causing stomach or intestinal discomfort. This could be because of sensitivity to food additives, naturally occurring chemicals in foods, or enzyme deficiencies. Food intolerances cause discomfort but are not life-threatening to your child.
Symptoms in infants can include forceful vomiting (more than the usual spit-up), excessive smelly gas, bloating, or diarrhea.
Breastfed infants can experience food sensitivities due to their mothers’ diet. Some nursing moms have found that their baby is more gassy or irritable after she ate dairy products or spicy foods, for example. Food allergy and sensitivity concerns and questions should be addressed with your pediatrician or Snapi Health dietitian.
Food allergies: Is it possible to reduce the risk of developing them?
The short answer is: yes! The latest research states that early introduction to common food allergens is best to reduce the risk. In fact, this research article found that introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year of life significantly reduced the risk of infants developing a peanut allergy. A joint consensus published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology states: “To prevent peanut and/or egg allergy, both peanut and egg should be introduced around 6 months of life.”
However, high-risk infants should proceed with caution. Infants who are considered “high-risk” for developing a food allergy have a history of eczema, an already determined egg allergy, or have a first-degree relative with a food allergy. Experts recommend that high-risk infants see their pediatrician regarding allergy concerns before introducing common allergy foods.
How do I introduce food allergens to my baby?
You can begin offering your baby complementary foods around 6 months of age or when your child shows signs of developmental readiness (good head control, sits unassisted, can pick up food and bring it to their mouth). After introducing your baby to their first foods, common allergenic foods should begin in the offering rotation. “The Big 8” most common allergenic foods are cow’s milk products, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Update: beginning in 2023, sesame will become the ninth major allergen that must be labeled on packaged US foods.
Stick to offering one common allergenic food at a time. For example, offer thinned peanut butter and track how it’s tolerated (no peanuts — the baby could choke!). To make thinned peanut butter, mix 2 tsp of peanut butter with 2–3 tsp hot water, breast milk, or formula and cool before serving. When the peanut-containing food is a success, continue to offer it regularly even as you begin to introduce other allergenic foods. After giving a new allergenic food, wait for 3 to 5 days before introducing another new food to watch for any reactions.
Introducing a variety of foods, including common allergens, will help your child in the long run. Don’t hesitate to introduce cultural foods to your baby as well. Developing your child’s palate early on helps with their acceptance and joy of food. Children often need repeated exposure — research shows that it can take 10 or more times until a child’s taste buds “like” a food. Be patient and continue offering your baby a variety of new foods.
Keep in mind that solid foods are meant to be complementary to breast milk and/or formula between 6 months to 1 year; your child’s main source of calories still comes from breast milk or formula during this time!
There’s more where that came from…
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive articles from our dietitians at Snapi Health. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @SnapiHealth and shoot us a DM with any questions you may have!
About the Author:
Allisyn Berg is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) who is passionate about sharing credible, science-backed information. She has a special interest in pediatric nutrition & development, and any food involving avocados!
- Chan ES, Abrams EM, Hildebrand KJ, Watson W. Early introduction of foods to prevent food allergy. Allergy, asthma, and clinical immunology: official journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6157280/. Published September 12, 2018. Accessed July 26, 2021.
- Facts and Statistics. Food Allergy Research & Education. https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics. Accessed July 26, 2021.
- Sesame Allergy. Food Allergy Research & Education. https://www.foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies/food-allergy-essentials/common-allergens/sesame. Accessed July 26, 2021.
- Fleischer et al D. A Consensus Approach to the Primary Prevention of Food Allergy Through Nutrition: Guidance from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; and the Canadian Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. https://www.jaci-inpractice.org/action/showPdf?pii=S2213-2198(20)31211-3. Published November 26, 2020. Accessed August 27, 2021.