Research suggests that introducing common food allergens, particularly nuts, can help reduce the risk of a child developing a food allergy. BUT when you are a parent of a baby just starting out on solids, it’s often the last thing you want to do, isn’t it? We want to play it safe. Choking is a worry and adding in the risk of an allergic reaction doesn’t sound like the best thing to do!
It’s a bit like crossing a road. It carries risk but it needs to be done in order to live life. You are aware it carries a risk – that’s why you look before you cross the road. You are aware of the rules of the road and you process the risk.
With allergens, the ‘rules’ we need to be aware of are the list of allergens and the signs that your baby is having an allergic reaction. This is the equivalent of ‘looking as you cross the road’, as well as knowing ways to introduce those allergens.
What are the most common food allergens to be aware of?
The 14 common food allergens (you will see them marked in bold on the ingredients list of foods) are:
- cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats)
- crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters)
- molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (above a certain amount)
- tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
Signs your baby might be having an allergic reaction:
According to the NHS, signs develop within a few minutes of eating the food and they are:
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- a red, itchy rash
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
- and less commonly, a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur – in which case you should call 999.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- feeling faint
- difficulty breathing
- raised heartrate
- clammy skin as well as hives
- feeling sick
- stomach pain.
(NB: Acidic foods, like tomatoes, can cause a reddening of the skin around the mouth so it’s not always a sign of an allergy)
An extra safety note about introducing solid food:
- Children under 5 should not have whole nuts as they are a choking hazard – offer ground nuts, nut butters or, once weaning is established, pieces of nut instead.
- Use eggs that are ‘Lion’ eggs or ‘Laid in Britain’ eggs. If they aren’t, make sure they are fully cooked (i.e. no runny egg!).
- Thoroughly cook fish and shellfish.
- Children under 5 should avoid raw fish and shellfish due to the higher risk of food poisoning.
How should I introduce allergens to my baby?
I’ve made you want to avoid allergens at all costs now, haven’t I? Well, rest assured that the risk of your baby having a reaction is low. It’s really important to try and introduce these foods early on. If you are feeling nervous, choose a time of day when someone else is around to introduce the food.
There are products which allow you to introduce allergens all at once to your baby but I recommend introducing them one at a time. It is much cheaper to buy real food than specialist products but it is also easier to tell which food they have reacted to if you introduce them separately.
Ideas to introduce allergens:
- Put a little peanut butter on your finger and let them suck your finger
- Add a little cow’s milk to their baby cereal or mashed fruit
- Add a little groundnut to their cereal or a sauce
- Give a small piece of fish with their meal
- Once you have introduced cow’s milk and are happy they aren’t reacting, make scrambled egg
- Try a little homous (with Tahini – sesame paste)
- Add a little bit of mustard to a cheese sauce (once you are happy with the cow’s milk)
- Try some pasta or bread
What to do if you think your baby is allergic to a food:
If they have an anaphylactic shock, call 999 immediately.
For other reactions, speak to your GP or call 111. It is always helpful to keep a diary too, recording the food eaten, time of day, what the reaction was, how quickly they reacted and how long it lasted for.
If there is a history of food allergies in your family, please speak to your health visitor or GP for further advice. There is also a helpful factsheet on the British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology (BSACI) website.
There are so many foods with allergens in them but it’s important to introduce them or babies miss out on important nutrition. It can feel scary but it’s worth introducing them one at a time and fairly early on to help them become a normal part of their diet.
Disclaimer – this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute individual medical advice.