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Food allergies are becoming more common. Here's how you can help prevent your baby from developing them.

ASCIA
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Like a lot of new parents, Ali Simmons was worried about the possibility of her baby son Leonard having a food allergy. 

“It seems like so many children have allergies these days,” Ali tells Mamamia. “We seem to talk about food allergies a lot at my mothers’ group.”

In fact, Australia has the world’s highest confirmed rate of food allergy in children. It’s estimated that 10% of babies have a food allergy. 

Researchers are still trying to work out exactly why the rate of food allergy is rising, but one thing has become clear: feeding babies the common allergy causing foods before they turn one can help prevent food allergies. 

These foods should be introduced to babies one at a time, and once introduced, should continue to be given to babies at least twice a week.  

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This message is now being passed on to all parents. 

“My child health nurse told me to introduce all foods, including the common allergy causing foods,” Ali says. “She directed me to the Nip allergies in the Bub website, which I found really helpful.”

Dr Preeti Joshi is a specialist in paediatric allergy and immunology at The Children’s Hospital, Westmead. Mamamia asked her some of the most common questions that parents have about food allergies. 

Is it really possible for parents to reduce the risk of their child having a food allergy?

There is good evidence that introducing peanut before 12 months of age reduces the development of peanut allergy. 

There is also some evidence that introduction of cooked egg before 12 months reduces the chance of developing egg allergy. 

We are encouraging parents to introduce all the common allergy causing foods when their baby is ready, from around 6 months (when their baby is ready) but not before 4 months of age.  

How should you introduce your baby to a common allergy causing food?

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), the peak medical body for allergy in Australia and New Zealand, recommends giving one new allergy causing food at a time, so that if your child has an allergic reaction, it is easy to identify the food causing the reaction so that it can be avoided until medical advice is sought.

We suggest starting with a small amount – about a quarter of a teaspoon – and gradually increasing the amount as your baby starts to eat more food.

How long should you wait before you give your baby another common allergy causing food?

You can give your baby one new allergy causing food at each meal. 

What is important, however, is that you don’t feed your baby just before they have a sleep – you need to be able to watch them for a couple of hours to see if they have an allergic reaction.

Do you need to cover all the common allergy causing foods (egg, cow’s milk, wheat, soy, peanut, fish, shellfish, sesame and tree nuts)?

You should introduce all the common allergy causing foods that your family usually eats. It is important that your baby continues to eat the food at least twice a week once introduced.

Would it be okay to just rub the peanut butter into the baby’s skin?

If parents are worried about feeding peanut butter to their baby, they can place a small amount on the inside of their baby’s lip and check for any swelling or other signs of an allergic reaction. 

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We don’t want parents rubbing foods onto the baby’s skin, particularly if they have eczema, as this could increase the chance of them developing an allergy to the food. 

Also, some foods, when rubbed on the skin, can cause a bit of a rash and some parents may confuse this for an allergic reaction. 

How will you know if your baby is having an allergic reaction to a food and what should you do if they are?

Signs that your baby may be having an allergic reaction usually happen within a few minutes to two hours of eating a food. 

When symptoms appear many hours later or the next day, they are usually not allergic reactions. 

The signs include rashes, especially hives (but not just a redness of the skin around the mouth), vomiting and swelling of the face, lips and eyes. 

More serious signs are if your baby has a swollen tongue, or has noisy/difficult breathing, or their cry sounds hoarse/different, or if they are pale and floppy. 

If you think your child is having an allergic reaction, seek medical help. If your baby has any of the more serious signs, you should call an ambulance. 

The Nip allergies in the Bub website includes all the signs and symptoms to look for.

What if a baby has eczema or has an older brother or sister with a food allergy – is it still safe for parents to use this method?

Yes, the ASCIA advice is for all babies. Babies with eczema and a family history of allergy are likely to benefit even more from following this advice as they are more likely to develop a food allergy. 

Ali says it was helpful to have advice like giving one new common allergy causing food at a time, and continuing to give the food regularly afterwards. 

“We also have given Leonard all the foods we would normally eat so that I’m not going out of my way to buy foods that we wouldn’t normally have in the house,” she adds. 

Parents can start feeding their babies solid foods when they’re at least four months old and showing signs that they’re ready. 

These signs include good head and neck control, being able to sit upright when supported, increased appetite, showing an interest in their parents’ food and opening their mouth when food is offered on a spoon. 

For Ali, the first common allergy causing food she introduced to Leonard was peanut.

“We started with rice cereal that was mixed with breastmilk, as this seems to be the recommended first food for babies,” she explains. 

“I then added smooth peanut paste to the rice cereal. Once there was no reaction, we continued with the smooth peanut paste, adding it into his pureed vegetables. We then blended up a hard-boiled egg and added that to some pureed vegetables.

“I have to admit, I was a little nervous giving him the egg and peanut, but he hasn’t had any reactions so that has given us the confidence to keep going.”

For more feeding advice and recipe ideas, visit the Nip allergies in the Bub website.

ASCIA
About the Food Allergy Prevention Project The National Allergy Strategy received funding from the Australian government to implement a food allergy prevention project based on the ASCIA guidelines for infant feeding and allergy prevention and was created in consultation with key stakeholder organisations. The project aims to: Encourage parents to introduce the common allergy causing foods to their baby within the first year of life Provide information and support to help parents feed their baby the common allergy causing foods Provide an information and support line to help answer any questions parents may have about feeding their baby the common allergy causing foods, including questions from health professionals Provide information and support to help parents manage their baby’s eczema to help prevent food allergy developing Provide information and support for health professionals about current infant feeding recommendations to prevent babies developing food allergy Provide information and support for health professionals about optimising eczema management to prevent food allergy developing Provide answers to frequently asked questions about how to prevent food allergy. The Nip Allergies in the Bub website is an initiative of the National Allergy Strategy Food Allergy Prevention Project. This project received funding from the Australian Government Department of Health. www.preventallergies.org.au
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