Some babies may have an allergy to certain foods. An allergy to a food is defined as your immune system reacting to a food substance, as if that substance is toxic. Research has shown there is minimal evidence to support the delayed introduction of solid food beyond six months of age. If foods are restricted because you are concerned about the risk of your baby developing an allergy, discuss this with your baby’s doctor and a dietician. Restricting the type of food offered to your baby can result in a dietary deficiency.
Food allergies in babies
The common food allergies for babies tend to be:
- Cow’s milk (a good reason to avoid early introduction to cow’s milk as their main source of nutrition)
- Tree nuts (cashews, almonds, brazil nuts)
- Fish and shellfish.
How does a baby allergic reaction work?
To try and protect your body, the immune system releases chemicals (such as histamines) into the body’s tissues. The effect on the body can be quite major, even with tiny amounts of food. A reaction can be unsettled behaviour or a mild skin rash or respiratory distress. The onset of a reaction can be immediate to a few hours later. In some circumstances it can be delayed for up to two days after exposure to the allergen. If your baby has a moderate to severe reaction ring 000 for an ambulance immediately as some allergic reactions can be life-threatening. These reactions may include:
- Breathing problems, wheezing
- Swelling of lips or throat
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Severe red rash
Most children grow out of their food allergies (especially egg and cow’s milk) and very few babies, in fact, experience food allergies.
Food intolerance in babies
Some babies have a food intolerance. A food intolerance is different to a food allergy, as it is generally a less severe reaction and is not caused by the immune system reacting to the food. Common food intolerances include:
- Dairy products
- Citrus fruits
Intolerances can still cause a lot of discomfort, however, there are generally fewer symptoms with intolerances than with allergies. Most common symptoms are:
- Skin redness
Use of cow's milk for feeding babies
Cow’s milk is not suitable for babies under the age of 12 months due to its high electrolyte and protein concentration. Babies’ immature kidneys can have significant problems and risk damage when cow’s milk is a regular source of their fluid intake. It is strongly recommended that babies under 12 months of age are either breastfed or fed infant formula.
Although cow’s milk is not advised as a main drink for babies, small quantities in the preparation of their solid foods is safe. For example, use in custards and mashed potato, and on cereal. Do not use low fat milk with children under two years of age.