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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“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.