Protecting Your Baby from Developing a Food Allergy

It’s food allergy awareness month and there’s lots of new research and recommendations on smart ways to feed your baby to help protect them from developing a food allergy. As a pediatrician, food allergies always interested me. It’s amazing how the immune system can be so complex and how we can have differences within generations in families. As a mother, I came to learn my daughter also had certain food allergies. I went from being the doctor to being the patient’s family member. The level of anxiety as a mother of a child with food allergies became very real. 

Did you know…

  • Food allergies have more than doubled over the last generation from 1999 to 2018. 
  • 320,000 children born this year will develop a food allergy by the age of 18. 
  • 2 out of 3 children who develop a food allergy do NOT have a parent with a food allergy.

Food Allergy Facts and Stats:

  • 6 million children in the US have a food allergy.
  • 8% of US children have a food allergy, that’s roughly 2 children in every classroom.
  • Peanuts only make up 7% of food allergies.
  • Amongst food-allergic children, almost 40% develop an allergy to more than one food.
  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic conditions than children without food allergies.

These statistics can feel overwhelming, but there are things parents can do to help protect their babies from developing a food allergy below. 

Diverse Diet

Get your baby eating lots of different foods around 4-6 months of age. Early introduction is important because landmark research showed early and regular dietary exposure to a food, specifically a food often associated with allergies, like peanut, may help reduce the risk of a child developing an allergy to that food. You also don’t need to introduce one food at a time. That’s old advice. You can feel comfortable introducing your baby to multiple foods at once. I always recommend checking in with your child’s pediatrician to obtain close guidance and advice on how to go about introducing your baby foods.

Keep Your Baby’s Skin Hydrated

Eczema and food allergies are associated but not necessarily cause and effect. The development of food allergies is believed to be driven by topical exposure to invisible, ever-present food particles in the environment (like peanut dust) through skin that is broken due to eczema. Research shows that babies with eczema can be over 600 percent more likely to develop a food allergy. It’s important to keep your child’s eczema under control, and your pediatrician can help you with that.

Because early introduction to common allergenic foods can be challenging for parents, a whole new category of food products has been created to help parents introduce allergens without fear to reduce food allergy risk with many companies taking on the task of creating foods that allow for early introduction in a safe manner for parents. These companies include Spoonful One, Lil Mixins, MeWe, and others.

It’s important to discuss introduction and use of these products in accordance with your pediatrician. There have been many studies done in the last 10-15 years on food allergies, many of which are summarized below.

Food Allergy Studies:

  1. The LEAP trial, an international clinical trial involving peanuts for high-risk infants, showed that the risk of developing a peanut allergy dropped by 81% when parents included peanut into a baby’s diet and continued for five years. 
  2. The EAT study, showed that feeding six potentially allergenic foods (peanut, egg, milk, white fish, sesame, and wheat) to infants as young as three months of age was safe and reduced food allergy development by two-thirds in those able to feed multiple times a week for three years. However, the EAT study also showed it was difficult for parents to get all of these foods in their babies’ diet regularly — only 31% of moms were able to adhere to the protocol (getting even just 5 foods in their babies regularly each week). Therefore, new solutions on the market that have many allergens may be of interest to parents.
  3. The PASTURE study found that infants exposed to an increased diversity of complementary foods (including major commonly allergic food categories such as nuts, cow’s milk, fish, soy, and eggs) within the first years of life have a reduced risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and food allergy.
  4. The IM EATING study found that SpoonfulOne was well tolerated in an at-home setting. Of the 8,803 ingestions of SpoonfulOne, zero infants experienced an allergic reaction. Results also showed it was easy for parents to feed their baby SpoonfulOne Mixs-in at home and therefore get many different food proteins into their babies every day. The study had an 88% study completion rate. 
  5. The Venter study on diet diversity found the consumption of 8 allergenic foods (milk, egg, wheat, fish, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and sesame) by 12 months of age in infants may reduce the likelihood of developing a food allergy by up to 96% over the first 10 years of life. 

You can see that not only early introduction but also a diverse diet is important for the prevention of allergies. Even with these measures, food allergies can still develop, like in my daughter! I strongly recommend talking to your pediatrician about which foods are safe to introduce, at what age, and what texture, depending on your method of choice– baby led weaning, purees, or a combination!

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