Weaning is an exciting milestone for parents, but so many things in an infant’s new world can trigger a reaction. Unfortunately, worried moms and dads instantly label outbreaks as “allergic” reactions, and the problem is not correctly diagnosed.
While there’s no doubt children can be allergic to certain foods, the incidence is only about 8%, according to a new report commissioned by the federal government, led by Dr. Marc Riedl, an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Contrary to this scientific finding, it appears as though food allergies are on the rise; you can’t go anywhere without hearing or reading about the topic. So, why this disconnect? The problem stems from confusion over what a food allergy is and what food intolerance is.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), food allergies set the immune system into action, and food intolerances generally do not. A good example of this is wine. Have you ever had a glass of red wine then later got a headache from it? That’s because you’re intolerant to the sulfites in wine; you’re not allergic to them.
The best approach to take when introducing infants to new foods is to do so one at a time, keeping in mind that allergic reactions might not happen right away. Feed your baby one food for a day or two, and if he tolerates the food well, introduce another. This way, if there is a reaction, you’ll know which food caused the problem.
Major symptoms of food allergies include diarrhea, skin rashes, hives, vomiting, difficulty breathing and a runny nose and watery eyes. If your baby shows any of these signs, call your pediatrician immediately, and don’t offer that food again until your doctor has made a diagnosis.
Symptoms of food intolerance include diarrhea, bloating and gas. Should your child show these sign after eating a new food, immediately stop offering the food. Once you are assured it is intolerance and not an allergy (by checking with your pediatrician), try introducing the food a month or two later. If the intolerance recurs, it would be wise to wait until your baby turns one year old before feeding that food again.
To keep negative food reactions to a minimum, the following should not be offered to your infant until she is 12 months old:
- Nuts, peanut butter and any food containing peanuts
- Cow’s milk
- Egg whites
- Citrus fruit and juice (i.e., orange, lime, grapefruit, lemon)
- Wheat and wheat products (If there is no known wheat allergies in the family, these products can be introduced at nine months of age.)
- Soy and soy products (If there is no known wheat allergies in the family, these products can be introduced at nine months of age.)
Keep in mind, if your baby has an initial allergic reaction to a new food, it may go away in time. Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric Registered Dietitian about any food allergy symptoms you observe. Once your baby’s specific allergies or intolerances are identified, your pediatrician can give you an action plan for safely managing feeding time without compromising proper nutrition.