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Can you help prevent allergies in babies? 7 questions we have, answered.

The first year in a baby’s life is one of the most exciting times for parents – but it can also be worrying. For example, the potential for food allergies concerns many parents, and isn’t helped by the plethora of information available on the topic – when there are simply basic things one wants to know: 

How do you know if your child might be allergic to certain foods? Are there things you can do to help prevent allergies?

This is why the National Allergy Strategy as part of its Food Allergy Prevention Project, has launched the Nip Allergies in the Bub campaign, to inform parents about what they can do in that first year.

The main message to take away is this: Parents can help prevent food allergies in their babies by feeding them common allergy-causing foods before they are one.

Nip Allergies in the Bub provides parents easy-to-access information, including recipes and timelines, on common allergy-causing foods such as eggs, nuts and soy. It also offers an information line, advice for health professionals about current feeding recommendations, and managing eczema (a medical condition causing inflamed skin) to help prevent food allergy from developing (as research shows both conditions are closely linked).

Mum-of-one Rikki Dunstall has been using the Nip Allergies in the Bub site to walk her through introducing solids to her five-and-a-half-month-old, Toby, and she told us it's been "really easy and helpful".

"I mixed rice cereal with breastmilk," Rikki told Mamamia. "I then added some apple or pear puree to the rice cereal, then moved on to sweet potato, carrot and apple puree then finally added in egg at five months. Smooth peanut paste  will be next."

Nip Allergies in the Bub helped Toby confidently start on solids. Image supplied.

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Some of Rikki’s concerns about potential food allergies were based on her own experience with eczema, which Rikki knew could be an indication of the potential development of food allergies. 

"I have had eczema all my life so I know what eczema looks like, and I am able to check my baby’s skin for signs of eczema – basically I look for any dry or red patches of skin," Rikki said.

"Eczema is itchy, so I also check to see if he is scratching his skin. Last week I noticed some red patches on his tummy and his doctor has confirmed that Toby has eczema. I’m really glad that I’ve started feeding him egg and now peanut based on the advice on the website for babies with eczema."

When using the website, Rikki has one extra tip: "I would suggest printing off the downloadable information sheets and putting them on your fridge – that way if you are still a bit sleep-deprived like me you don’t need to remember too much!"

Mamamia spoke to Dr Preeti Joshi, a consultant specialist in Paediatric and Immunology at the Children’s Hospital in Westmead, to explore further what parents of babies need to know, and can do, in that first year.

1. Many parents are nervous about allergies. What's the best thing you can do in that first year to help prevent food allergies?

"Even though parents may be worried about feeding their baby the common allergy-causing foods like egg and peanut, they actually have a better chance of preventing allergies to these foods if they feed them to their baby before one year of age."

2. How much of the allergy-causing foods should you serve in one go?

"I would suggest starting with a small amount, about a quarter of a teaspoon and slowly build up to about two teaspoons."

3. How does feeding your baby the common allergy-causing foods in the first year help prevent allergies later?

"We are still not sure how food allergies develop, but studies suggest that feeding babies solid foods early in life, that is, before they are one, appears that to help prevent the immune system accidentally thinking these foods are harmful."

Dr Preeti Joshi. Image: Supplied.

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4. What are the common allergy-causing foods we should be feeding our babies under one?

"The research shows that feeding your baby peanut regularly before they are one helps to prevent peanut allergy. Feeding your baby well-cooked egg before one may also help to prevent egg allergy. 

"Delaying the introduction of other common allergy-causing foods (such as milk, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and sesame) is not helpful in preventing food allergy. Once introduced, try to continue to include these foods in your baby’s food at least twice a week until they are around five years of age."

5. What are the steps to take if you suspect an allergic reaction to food?

"If you think your baby is having an allergic reaction, stop feeding your baby that food. If your baby has mild symptoms such as rash or lip or eye swelling, seek advice from your doctor.

"Call an ambulance if your baby has any signs of difficulty breathing or they are pale and floppy."

6. Does an allergy to a food mean that the allergy will be to all foods in that group? For example, cheese - but OK with yoghurt?

"If your baby is allergic to a food, they should avoid all forms of that food. For example, if they are allergic to peanut, they should avoid all foods that contain peanut.

"It is important to read food labels to make sure the food your baby is allergic to is not an ingredient in that food. Some babies with milk or egg allergies may be able to tolerate it in some form (like baked products) but this can only be introduced under the guidance of a doctor experienced in managing food allergies. 

"If your baby is already tolerating a food (for example, egg in a baked product) without any reactions, don’t remove it from their diet."

7. What is the link between food allergies and eczema?

"If your baby has eczema, they may be exposed to food products through their skin and this may increase their chance of developing an allergy to that food if they are not actually eating that food. 

"Also, people with eczema and food allergy may have genes that make them more at risk of developing allergic diseases - there is lots of research happening to study this further."

For more information, see the Nip Allergies in the Bub on the Prevent Allergies website, or see Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia on Facebook.

 ASCIA, National Allergy Strategy and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia.
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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