Food allergies are becoming more common and Australian research shows that around 1 in 10 infants develop an allergy to food. The most common food allergies in children are cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts and peanuts, but other food allergens include soy, fish, shellfish, sesame, lupin and wheat. Children can grow out of some food allergies in late childhood, while other food allergies tend to be life-long.
A food allergy is when the body’s immune system over reacts to a food protein (allergen) and triggers an allergic reaction. Food allergic reaction signs usually appear quickly within minutes to 2 hours after eating.
Signs of a mild to moderate allergic reaction:
- Swelling of the lips, face or eyes
- Hives or welts on the skin
- Vomiting, stomach pain
Stop feeding the food and seek urgent medical attention if your child has shown any signs of an allergic reaction to food.
Signs of severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis – any one or more of the following:
- Difficulty or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or throat
- Change in voice or cry or difficulty talking
- Wheeze or coughing
- Dizziness or collapse
- Pale and floppy
Call an ambulance immediately if your child is showing signs of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, and give urgent medical attention.
If a family member has a diagnosed allergy, or your baby has eczema, then your baby has a higher risk of developing a food allergy. In these cases, it is important to seek appropriate health professional advice before introducing solid foods to baby.
Starting Solids and Introducing Allergen Containing Foods:
Introduce solid foods to your baby when they show the developmental signs of readiness around 6 months of age, but not before 4 months. When introducing solids to baby, include common allergy-causing foods in an age-appropriate texture by 12 months, as research shows this may help reduce the chance of the child developing an allergy to that food.
Among other benefits, breastfeeding may lower the risk of allergy development in babies. Breastfeed your baby for at least the first six months, and continue to breastfeed for as long as you can after you have introduced solids.
When your baby starts solids, introduce just one new common allergen-causing food at a time, to see how it is tolerated. Offer common allergy-causing foods in an age-appropriate texture, some examples include well-cooked egg, smooth peanut butter, yoghurt, cooked pureed fish and tofu (made from soybeans). If no signs of an allergic reaction, then continue to give these foods regularly (e.g. twice weekly) as part of a varied diet to maintain tolerance. You can find more information on introducing foods like egg and peanut here.
There is no reason to delay introducing any foods to your baby unless you know they have a diagnosed allergy to a certain food. If you suspect your baby has a food allergy, make sure you talk to your health professional for the correct diagnosis, advice and emergency treatment.
If your baby has a food allergy, the only treatment is avoidance of known food allergens. Also speak to a dietitian for advice on how to change your baby’s diet and to still ensure a nutritionally adequate diet.
When buying baby food be sure to carefully check the ingredient list on the product label, so you can identify anything which may be unsuitable for your baby. If a food allergen is added to a food, it is displayed in the ingredient list regardless of the amount or how it is added. Also check food labels every time you buy a food, as they can be updated without notice. If you have any questions about our Wattie’s products and food allergens, please contact our Consumer Support Team on 0800 653 050.
References and more information:
Ministry of Health. 2021. Healthy Eating Guidelines for New Zealand Babies and Toddlers (0-2 years old). Wellington: Ministry of Health.
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) [Internet]
NIP Allergies in the Bud [Internet] National Allergy Strategy
The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.