Introducing allergenic foods to babies
A step by step guide
Are you getting ready to start your baby on solid foods? Introduction to solids is a very exciting chapter in your baby’s development. However, for some parents, this step can be overwhelming due to the fear of food allergies especially if other family members have food allergies.Guidelines to introducing allergens have changed over the years and it is easy to feel confused on when and how to introduce high-risk foods.
According to recent studies, there is no benefit in delaying the introduction of allergenic foods. In fact, holding off on offering these foods can actually put your baby at a higher risk for developing food allergies. Therefore, early exposure is the key to preventing food allergies and building tolerance. The current guidelinesrecommend introducing allergenic foods to babies as early as four to six months.
What are the top allergenic foods?
· Milk (cow’s milk protein)
· Tree Nuts
How can I introduce these foods?
Once your baby has been exposed to a few non-allergenic foods (foods that very rarely cause an allergic reaction), you may move onto introducing allergenic foods. Here are the 3 steps I suggest:
1. Test foods at home
When introducing allergenic foods, I always recommend testing them at home. This way, you are not distracted and can keep a close eye on your baby should a reaction occur. It is always best to give a small amount of food (1/2 tsp) to “test” and monitor for signs of a reaction for a few minutes . Ensure you have an easy access to a hospital or medical clinic in case any serious reaction occurs.
If the baby tolerates the food, it is best to keep offering the food in the diet on a regular basis in order to build tolerance.
2. Space out the introduction of foods
Try introducing no more than one new allergenic food per day and then wait about 3-5 days few days before introducing another new allergenic food. Offer the same food for 3 consecutive days and monitor symptoms. This way, if there is reaction, you will be able to easily pinpoint which food is problematic.
3. Be aware of the symptoms to watch for
It can take as little as a few minutes or up to several hours for an allergic reaction from food to occur, so keeping a food journal for those few days can be extremely useful. The common signs of an allergic reaction are:
Itching, tingling or swelling of the mouth, lips or tongue
Hives, itching or eczema
Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
Abdominal pain, diarrhea
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor or seek medical help right away.
Now let’s get down to the practical stuff! Here are some suggestions on how to easily offer these foods to your baby using the purée and baby led weaning (BLW) methods.
If your baby is enjoying purée food, you may offer infant cereal made with wheat. Cream of Wheat or Farina are also good options. For finger foods, consider offering “toast sticks”, or whole wheat pasta such as penne or rotini.
Children under 12 months of age should not be served cow’s milk as a beverage. You can however introduce cow’s milk protein by incorporating it in baked goods. You can also offer your child full fat yogurt or pasteurized soft cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese. Hard cheese can be grated and offered to your little ones to enjoy as finger foods.
Fish can be offered pureed with some breast milk or formula. Most fish easily break into pieces and can be offered as finger foods. You may also add pieces of cooked fish into one of your baby’s favorite foods such as sweet potatoes, squash, or any other veggies. Mashed veggies and fish can be easily turned into patties. Fish patties can be pan fried with a little oil and offered as finger foods. The soft texture of these patties is perfect for babies who are just starting to experiment with solid foods. Just make sure to be extra careful and remove all bones from the fish before giving it to your baby. Check out this tuna patty recipe. You can omit the salt and reduce the quantity of Cajun spice to make it more “baby friendly”.
Babies who are at high risk for developing peanut allergy are those infants with an egg allergy and/or severe eczema.
Whole peanuts should never be given to your infant as they are a choking hazard. Peanut butter can be diluted with hot water to create a runny consistency which can then be offered to the baby. I do not recommend giving spoons full of peanut butter as it can be quite sticky and the texture can be difficult for some infants to manage. You may also add 1/3 of a teaspoon of peanut butter in infant cereals or any other puree foods such as yogurt or apple sauce.
For finger foods, you may add peanut butter on toast or on soft fruit such as banana or avocado. In order to develop a tolerance, peanuts should be offered to the baby 3-4 times per week. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) recommends offering 6-7 grams of peanut butter to babies per week in order to help maintain and built tolerance.
You can introduce tree nuts like almonds and hazelnuts simply by mixing the flour version of these nuts into a pureed food like applesauce. Nut flours can be used to make recipes such as waffles and pancakes which are excellent finger foods!
It is perfectly fine to give your baby whole egg when introducing solid foods. There is no longer a need to separate the egg white and the yolk. Just make sure the egg is cooked all the way through in order to reduce any chances of food borne illness caused by salmonella. Scrambled eggs can easily be pureed with a little breast milk or formula. Boiled egg wedges and frittata are great finger food options!
A simple way to introducing soy to a baby is by offering tofu. Tofu comes in a variety of consistencies: silk, soft, medium and firm. Silken tofu can easily turn into a purée by mashing it with a fork. You can also add purée fruit into silken tofu to make it more appealing to the baby. Medium consistency tofu sticks are excellent finger foods. Pan friend tofu sticks are delicious and are usually quite popular with babies who enjoy eating finger foods.
Introducing allergens at the appropriate times in their growth and development can make a difference in your baby’s likelihood of developing food allergies. If you are concerned about your child’s nutrition or would like one on one support, schedule a free 15 minute consultation today!