Reducing the risk of food allergies through early introduction
What do experts think?
The common advice from paediatricians over the years has been to not introduce foods with high allergenic potential (e.g. nuts and milk) to the diets of children early – basically to stick with food that have low allergenic potential(such as lactose free formulas) for longer. The thought has been that delaying the introduction of such food gives the body of the child time to grow enough to withstand the outcome of consuming such food.
Their earlier recommendation is understandable because the possible consequences from allergic reactions could be very severe – sometimes the rashes, the itching and the rhinorrhoea are benign relative to the swellings and death by suffocation that could occur.
But recent findings have been challenging the veracity of the earlier recommendations. Recent studies propose that introducing meals with high allergenic potential to the diets of baby earlier can reduce the risk of the child becoming allergic to such food.
In one study of 147 babies (4 – 5 months old), approximately one half of the sample population were given a fixed amount of egg protein each week for a fixed duration while the other half were not (placebo group). The primary analysis of this trial showed that a marginally higher percentage of babies (38%) in the placebo group had hen’s egg allergy unlike in the egg group where only 8% had hen’s egg allergy. The trial ended after the primary analysis because the difference was very obvious.
In another study of 600 children, the children were divided into 2 groups: the children of one group were given peanuts multiple times each week while the children of the other group were not. The result showed that 3% of the peanut children became allergic to peanuts while 17% of the no-peanut children became allergic to peanuts.
The summary of these new studies is that, introducing children to highly allergenic foods like peanuts and milk early enough may play a role in reducing the likelihood that the children eventually become allergic to them.
So what do you do?
Do not take the results of these studies as medical advice because they are not. It is quite possible that starting these food early in your kids will reduce the probability of them becoming allergic yet you should consult with your paediatrician before introducing them.
When the paediatrician advises that you introduce these foods to the child, you should follow these guidelines to ensure that the transition is smooth:
- Ensure that the transition is gradual – do not introduce more than one food at once and wait for a few days before introducing another. Also, monitor the child from when you introduce one food till when you introduce another.
- The child should be healthy during the introduction to be certain that any symptom that may show up is not due to illness and to easily notice anything different.
- Feed this food to the child more than once a week to further reduce the risk of the child becoming allergic.
- Give the child mashed form of the food so they can swallow easily.
The most important thing to do following the introduction of a potential allergen is to monitor the child for any changes and be ready to call for medical support as soon as such change is noticed. Following introduction of milk, babies who are discovered to be allergic to milk can be placed on lactose free formulas which can be gotten online.