Food Allergies in Babies and Discovering Solids Safely

Though introducing solids is exciting, understanding what foods are most allergenic, how to monitor your little one for a reaction, and best practices for feeding solids is important. Here are our tips to help!

Being Aware of Food Allergies in Babies and What This Means for You

One of the most important – and exciting – parts of parenthood is gradually introducing your baby to solid foods. Watching their reaction as they taste new fruits, vegetables, cereals, and flavors is fun for both you and your little one, and may even give you indicators into their later food preferences. Discovering if they prefer sweets like you, how they enjoy their baby oatmeal a lot more with a dash of cinnamon, or if they favor carrots over other veggies like their big brother or sister opens up the incredibly wide world of food while helping inform your baby’s early taste preferences.

As you continue to introduce more solids, it’s ultra-important to be mindful of food allergies in babies, how to detect abnormal reactions to foods, and what foods tend to be the most allergenic. You may have already been gradually introducing new foods, one by one, to closely monitor your little one’s reaction to them in the hours and days after eating them. This is important, because it allows you to immediately identify exactly which food he or she reacted poorly to – which may not always be instantaneous or severe, with symptoms like swelling, choking, shortness of breath, or vomiting. If your baby does have an immediate allergic reaction, call 911 right away.

Understanding other ways your baby may have reacted poorly to a new food, such as by having tummy issues – constipation, gas, vomiting, or diarrhea – or breaking out into an irritating or itchy rash somewhere, can help you determine if there is a mild allergy or intolerance present. When starting solids, be sure to introduce them one by one and give your baby about 3 – 5 days in between. That way, if any later reactions occur, you can still pinpoint the new food he or she tried as the likely culprit. Of course, once you know that a particular food doesn’t cause a reaction, you can feed it to your baby more frequently and alongside other foods.

According to the CDC, the 8 most common allergenic foods are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts

When and How to Introduce High-Allergy Foods to Your Baby

Staying mindful of common food allergies in babies and knowing when – and how – to introduce these foods is also important (and sometimes nerve-wracking – we get it!) as your baby becomes more accustomed to solids. When first introducing solids to your little one, stick with less allergenic foods first like pureed fruits and vegetables, baby oatmeal, or rice cereal. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing highly allergenic foods as complementary foods as early as 4 – 6 months of age, or once a few other complementary foods have been introduced and tolerated by your little one. This early introduction of allergenic foods may help prevent your baby from developing food allergies, though extra care should be taken when letting your little one try a high-allergy food. Consider these precautionary measures:

  • Introduce high-allergy foods at home and in a controlled environment, rather than at a café, restaurant, or social gathering.
  • When introducing dairy, try things like cheese, yogurt, and egg first. Cow’s milk should still not be introduced to your baby until he or she is at least 1 year old.
  • When introducing peanuts and tree nuts, do so through products like smooth peanut butter and nut butters – shelled nuts can pose a serious choking hazard, even to an older baby or toddler.
  • Monitor your baby’s reaction to these foods both immediately and in the hours and days after and note any physical or behavioral changes.

All complementary foods – both highly allergenic and less allergenic – should be prepared in a way that does not require chewing and allows foods to be easily dissolved with saliva. Feed your little one small portions, encourage him or her to eat slowly (even if they’re super excited about a new food!), and always watch them carefully as they’re eating. Hard foods should be cooked, boiled, mashed, and/or chopped, so the pieces are ultra-tiny, soft, and easy for your baby to mash in their mouth, whether or not they have a few shiny new teeth yet. You may also consider mixing your breast milk into other foods, to ensure it is smooth and easy to swallow.

Finally, you may also wish to look into baby food companies that specialize in gradual allergen introduction. These companies sell pureed foods that include a small portion of a common allergen – such as peanuts or eggs – so you can introduce these foods to your baby one by one and in modest, controlled amounts to recognize or help prevent common food allergies.

Food allergies in babies can be a stressful prospect when introducing more solids and slowly transitioning your little one to the exciting world of (non-liquid) food! Speak to your child’s pediatrician if certain food allergies run in your family or in your partner’s family, as they may recommend testing your baby for these specific allergies differently. Remember, your pediatrician is your professional partner in all things related to your baby’s health and wellness – with some guidance and communication, discovering solids can be an amazing, fun time for you and your little one. You’ve got this!