Preventing Food Allergies in Babies: What You Need to Know

Author Image Katie Thomson MS, RD | Cofounder

What are Food Allergies?

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to proteins found in a particular food – and the top culprits, identified by the FDA are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, and soy. Sesame is an emerging allergen recently added to the top allergen list starting January 2023. Food allergies are common – with more than 32 million (1 in 13 children and 1 in 10 adults) suffering from food allergies today.
 

Raw peanuts sliced into two
Raw peanuts sliced into two

Food Allergies are on the Rise

Unfortunately, according to CDC, food allergies have increased 50% from 1997 to 2011. Food allergies in infants and young children under the age of 5 are higher in Western countries such as the U.S. than elsewhere.

Although scientists aren’t completely sure why this is or what has contributed to the rise in allergies, there are a few possible theories:

  • Greater awareness among parents and doctors could lead to higher diagnosis rates
  • Lower immunity due to less exposure to bacteria
  • Lack of exposure to common allergens early in life

Not only are food allergies a life-changing inconvenience for families, they can also breed a constant state of fear and anxiety as one accidental exposure could lead to a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. That’s why it’s more crucial than ever to educate our parents and caregivers about the importance of early allergen introduction for food allergy prevention.

Mom offering baby puree food

Is it Genetics?

Although factors including genetics can play a role in whether you will develop allergies, researchers believe it’s not the sole contributing factor – and it certainly doesn’t guarantee whether or not you will have a food allergy. In fact, 50% of children diagnosed with a food allergy do not have a direct family member with a food allergy.

“Babies aren’t born with food allergies. They develop over time. New research empowers parents with steps we can start doing today that may help prevent them.” – Katie Thomson MS, RD, Cofounder

A family history of eczema, asthma, and allergies can also raise the stakes. Eczema is one of the earliest markers of an allergic person with up to 40 percent of babies with moderate to severe eczema having food allergies. Other factors, including diet and environment can also contribute to the development of allergies. Doctors don’t fully understand why some children develop allergies and others don’t, but what we do know is – all babies are at risk for developing food allergies.

Three almonds in a row

Allergy Signs and Symptoms

What is a food allergy?: During a food allergy, the immune system reacts to a harmless food as if it were a threat and creates what are called histamines and antibodies to fight it.

Break it down for me!: Essentially, your baby’s digestive system isn’t able to comfortably handle the newly released histamines and antibodies and your baby may have a reaction.

When may the reaction happen?: The reaction can occur in seconds or minutes after they eat a food that they are allergic to.

What are the symptoms?: A range of symptoms can present themselves – from tingling in the mouth and swelling of the tongue and throat to difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

What should I do?: If you think your child is having an allergic reaction, it is important to stop feeding them that particular food and seek immediate medical advice from your doctor. If your baby has trouble breathing, a swollen tongue, and becomes flushed and wheezy – call 911 immediately.

Baby looking at camera while eating puree baby food

Previous Allergy Prevention Recommendations are Outdated

Because of the rise in prevalence, in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended the delayed introduction of the top allergens to children at high risk for food allergies. The recommendations were to delay: cow’s milk until age 1 year; egg until 2 years; and peanuts, tree nuts and fish until age 3 years. Unfortunately, the delay of allergen introduction was not well-grounded in scientific evidence.

A single pink cooked shrimpA single pink cooked shrimp  A single pink cooked shrimp

New Research and Medical Guidelines

In a 2008 study, there was a growing body of evidence that showed early introduction of allergens such as peanuts lowered the risk of developing an allergen later in life. The study compared diets in children in the U.K. and in Israel and found children in Israel consumed peanuts earlier in life at a much more frequent rate compared to the children in the U.K. Additionally, new research from leading health organizations including LEAP, PETIT, and EAT also showed early introduction of a wide variety of allergenic foods lowered the risk of developing food allergies by up to 80%.

Because of the latest research, AAP now recommends for all babies and high risk groups to offer a wide variety of foods, including potentially allergenic foods as early as 4-6 months and often (several times/week) including peanuts and egg to help prevent severe food allergies. These new recommendations are supported by clinical trials, and have shown early introduction of allergenic foods to be safe and help significantly reduce baby’s risk of developing food allergies.

Can Babies/Children Outgrow Food Allergies?

It depends on the food/allergy. Children are most likely to be allergic to milk, egg, and peanuts. For adults, it’s fruit/vegetable pollen (oral allergy syndrome), peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.

Children may outgrow their allergic reactions to milk and to eggs. Peanut and tree nut allergies are likely to persist.

While it was previously thought that a majority of kids would outgrow allergies to milk by the age of 3, recent research indicates it’s taking longer. Still, a majority of children will likely outgrow their allergy to milk and eggs by age 16.

Also, food allergies can be triggered at any age, even after a food has been ingested for years. Allergies to peanuts and different types of fish are typically the most life-threatening and often manifest themselves early and last for life.

Baby Girl eating pureed baby food from a spoon

How to Introduce Allergens Safely

Introducing allergens can be daunting, but we are here to make the introduction of allergens seamless (and less stressful!). Here are a few helpful tips to make the introduction easier.

  • Consult with your pediatrician or allergist about introducing allergens.
  • Introduce allergens early & often. New research shows introducing allergens EARLY (between 4-6 months) and often (several exposures of each allergen per week) may help prevent food allergies.
  • Serve first at home or at a Pediatrician's office. Baby’s first known allergenic food should be given at home or in a doctor’s office.
  • Try spoon feeding purees with the allergen. Finger foods are great for motor development skills, but can often end up on the floor or in their hair! With allergen introduction, it’s important that your baby actually consumes the food (allergen) to get the dosage needed for exposure. In our experience, spoon-feeding may be easier.
  • Dosage matters.
    • Some dosages have been determined by landmark studies.
    • For example: 2g peanut protein, 3 times per week is recommended by the LEAP study to help prevent peanut allergies by up to 80%.
  • Increase serving size gradually. Start with small portions. If no major concerns arise from the introduction of the allergenic food, research suggests gradually increasing the amount over a few days.
Baby boy sitting in high chair and eating baby food with a spoon

Adding Allergens to Meals

Some allergens are easier to make than others that don’t require a ton of preparation. Here are a few easy tips to start adding allergens to your baby’s meals today.

  • Add a spoonful of yogurt (allergen: milk) to a fruit, veggie, oatmeal puree.
  • Add scrambled eggs to a veggie hash. Or serve as a perfect finger food!
  • Add peanut butter (or other nut butter) to mashed banana. Thin as desired with yogurt, water, or breastmilk/formula.
  • We got you covered! Some allergens are challenging and time-consuming to prepare in age-appropriate sizes. We’re here to make it easier. Check out our fully customizable allergen introduction menu including Almond Butter & Banana (tree nuts, wheat) and Beet Berry (yogurt/milk) - delivered straight to your door! 
Peanut pumpkin pie baby food with yellow spoon, banana, nuts, white beans, and more

Pro Tip: Children with milk and egg allergy have been shown to tolerate baked milk and egg foods well before tolerating the less heated forms of these foods.

Research shows consuming the heated forms of the foods such as cow’s milk may even enhance the development of tolerance to other forms of those foods, helping them “outgrow” the allergy more quickly. This should only be attempted under the watchful eye of your board-certified allergist, however.

Our Allergen Introduction Menu (Made Easy!)

We know that shopping, chopping, cooking, and pureeing the various allergens can be overwhelming! That’s why we’re proud to be the ONLY baby food company offering an Allergen Introduction Menu including Almond Butter & Banana (tree nuts, wheat), Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie (tree nuts, egg, soy), Lil Cashew Chicken (tree nuts), Salmon Mash (fish), and Beet Berry, Greenie Baby, Peachy Oatmeal, and Mango Chia Pudding (yogurt/milk).

Our meals are made from organic, high-quality ingredients and shipped frozen right to your doorstep.

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions by emailing us at hello@squarebaby.com or visit www.squarebaby.com to learn more!

Founders of Square Baby

~ Katie and Kendall, founders & chief mamas

Please Note:

Our meals may be a complement to your overall Allergen Introduction offering. They are not intended or guaranteed to treat, cure, or prevent disease or reactions. Speak with your pediatrician or allergist about introducing allergens to your baby, including specific dosages and feeding routines.

References:

www.foodallergy.com

www.aap.org

www.nejm.org

www.pubmed.gov

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

www.preventallergies.org

www.jacionline.org

www.sciencedirect.com

www.sciencedirect.com

www.cdc.gov

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