Children's Health: Food Allergies

Learn about the dangers of food allergies and what you can do to minimize them.

It is important to be aware of food allergies, especially if your child may be at risk for developing a food allergy. Children can be at higher risk if they have an allergy to any type of food or formula, or if there are other family members with food allergies.

If your child is at high risk of developing food allergies, delay offering solid food until the child is at least six months old. At this time you can begin an iron-fortified infant cereal while continuing to breastfeed. Start with rice and oat cereals, and introduce wheat cereals later on. Next try introducing vegetables, but avoid legumes (dried beans and peas) at first. Next would come non-citrus fruits and juices. Meat and protein-type foods can be added when the child reaches eight to nine months of age.

Avoid egg whites, cow's milk, wheat, and citrus fruits and juices until your infant is at least one year old. Peanuts (including peanut butter) and shellfish should also be avoided until your child is at least two to three years old. [Editor's update: Talk with your pediatrician about introducing your baby to peanut butter or nut products. New research in 2015 found that introducing babies to nut products may actually lower their risk for a peanut or nut allergy. But children at high risk for a nut allergy may still need to avoid nut products or be tested for food allergies before trying them, so talk with your doctor.]

Be careful of feeding your child mixed-ingredient foods unless you are sure that he or she is not allergic to any of the individual ingredients. Also, avoid adding any seasonings to the food until your child is a bit older.

Will avoiding certain foods during pregnancy prevent a baby from developing food allergies?
No concrete scientific evidence proves that restricting certain foods during pregnancy will prevent a baby from developing a food allergy. In fact, it is not recommended that women restrict their diets while pregnant. Mothers who restrict their diets during pregnancy often have a lower birth-weight baby.

When you offer a new food, feed it to the child for several days in a row before you offer another new one. This makes it easier to detect food allergies. Symptoms of food allergies can include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, swelling around the mouth or throat, coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives, or a rash. Symptoms usually develop fairly quickly after the child eats a specific food—sometimes within minutes to hours. More common than food allergies is an intolerance to certain foods, which can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, spitting up, and skin rashes. If you suspect a food allergy in your child, keep a food diary for a few weeks and record what foods your child has been eating, especially newly introduced foods, and when the symptoms developed. That may help you to figure out exactly what food is causing the allergic reaction. Most kids outgrow food allergies; however, allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are seldom outgrown.

Your doctor should decide if and when you can begin reintroducing foods that have caused allergic actions in the past.

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