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Introducing Allergens

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Kate Geagan

Kate Geagan, M.S., R.D.N.

Dietitian and sustainable nutrition pioneer

How Do I Introduce Common Food Allergens to my Baby?

While starting solids is such an exciting time of discovery and opportunity, many parents feel anxious about how to introduce potential allergens. Indeed it can feel extra confusing because the science and expert guidance have continued to evolve and change over the past decade.

But while it may “feel” right to delay introduction out of an abundance of caution, introducing common allergens when your baby is eating solid foods is now recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the USDA. Below is the latest expert guidance on how and when to offer your little one these foods. Of course, every baby is different, so be sure to talk with your pediatrician about any specific concerns you have.

What foods are the most common potential allergens?

Nine major food allergens account for the majority of food allergies and must be declared on U.S. product labels. These include:

  • Milk

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Crustacean shellfish

  • Tree nuts

  • Peanuts

  • Wheat

  • Soybean

  • Sesame

Talk with your Pediatrician Before the First Spoonful

Before you introduce a common food allergen, always talk with your pediatrician before the first spoonful.This is especially important if your little one is at higher risk, such as:

  • If you have a family history of food allergies
  • If you have a sibling with a peanut allergy

  • If your child is already displaying signs of allergy or has a diagnosed allergy

  • If your baby has atopic dermatitis (a skin rash) that is poorly controlled

In these cases, your pediatrician may recommend that you hold off introducing certain foods or meet with a specialist to develop a personalized plan that’s right for your little one so you can continue your family’s food journey with confidence.

Introducing Common Food Allergens: Start Early and Start Small

The most up to date USDA Dietary Guidelines encourage potentially allergenic foods to be introduced when other complementary foods are introduced to an infant’s diet. Similarly, according to the latest AAP Recommendations:

  • Complementary foods, including potential allergens, can be offered to healthy infants after 4-6 months of age (in the right developmental format).

  • There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods, including peanuts, eggs, and fish, beyond 4 to 6 months prevents atopic disease.

  • Introducing and regularly feeding allergenic foods such as peanut (in the right consistency for your little one) during infancy may help reduce your baby's risk of developing a peanut allergy.

When offering any new food, start with a small amount that’s in the developmentally appropriate form for your little ones’ eating skills, and watch for any signs of an adverse reaction from your baby. It’s a good idea to introduce a new food at home, rather than in a daycare or a restaurant setting, and to wait at least 3-5 days between offering new foods, which makes it easier to pinpoint the culprit if your baby has a reaction. In some cases it is possible to have a reaction on the second (or even third) exposure, so watch each time until you are confident your baby tolerates a particular food. If you do see any symptoms or unusual behavior appear, stop the feeding and call your pediatrician.

While cow’s milk shouldn’t be introduced until age 1, yogurt and cheese can be introduced at around 6 months, but talk with your pediatrician if your little one has a milk protein intolerance to breast milk or formula, or if you have any questions before you begin to introduce common allergens.

Kate Geagan

Does a Mother’s Diet in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Make a Difference?

While in the past mothers were cautioned against including certain foods in hopes of reducing a food allergy, this too has evolved as newer science has shed more light on the topic. According to the most recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Evidence does not support restricting a mother’s diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding as methods to prevent allergies

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 to 4 months does seem to help protect against baby’s risk of early eczema. And any amount of breastfeeding (even if it is not exclusive) beyond 3 to 4 months also protects against wheezing for the first two years, and offers even longer benefits in reducing asthma

  • Hydrolyzed formula does not prevent allergies in infants and children, even in those at high risk for allergic disease, according to the research

This is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always discuss any health and feeding concerns directly with your pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read above.