Food allergies and your baby

All of us can worry about our baby’s health but how do you know if your baby has food allergies or intolerances?

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Food allergies affect 6-8% of children, according to the British Dietetic Association. So could your newborn baby have allergies, and what should you do if your child has an allergic reaction?

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What’s the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

Food allergies occur when the immune system reacts inappropriately against a protein within a food known as an allergen, with almost instant results.

Intolerances are an adverse reaction to food that occur when the body can’t digest it successfully. Effects can take up to 48 hours to appear.

What are the signs of a food allergy?

The symptoms can be hard to spot.

Food allergies often develop between your baby’s first and second birthdays, partly because her immune system isn’t fully formed.

Vomiting and bad colic in your small baby can mean a food allergy. Asthma, hay fever and eczema may be other signs your baby could have a food allergy.

What happens during an allergic reaction?

Reactions vary. The most frightening and severe allergic reaction is anaphylactic shock  – one symptom of this is feeling your baby’s throat closing up.

There could also be:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Swelling
  • Rashes

What should you do if there’s an allergic reaction?

In severe cases, if your baby goes into anaphylactic shock, take her straight to your local 
hospital Accident & Emergency department, where adrenaline may be given by injection.

For non-severe cases, an over-the-counter antihistamine or trip to the GP should be fine. However, doctors aren’t always aware of food allergies and may just treat the symptoms rather than look for the cause.

What’s the latest advice on peanuts

For years, you’ve been advised to avoid peanuts during pregnancy and not to let your baby or toddler eat peanut products for fear of developing allergies. But now, questions have been raised about whether avoiding peanuts may actually increase the risk of allergies developing.

Eating peanuts early in life may actually reduce the risk of developing peanut allergies, a House of Lords committee recently concluded. The Department of Health is considering the report but says its current advice remains unchanged: if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid peanuts and food containing peanuts but only if you or your partner has a history of hay fever, asthma or eczema.

Children under 3 should avoid peanuts, only if there’s a family history of allergies. If there’s no history, there’s no need to worry about peanuts. 

Mums’ stories

“I was terrified when my 2 year old reacted badly to peanuts”

“Cassie’s whole body became covered in a rash, and her ears and eyes swelled up. It was terrifying. We took her to hospital and she was given an antihistamine to control the reaction. Now we keep a detailed food diary and have to be very careful where we take Cassie – one restaurant has already made a mistake.

“I can’t see how she can go to nursery and I think she will have to be home educated. I’ve worked in childcare for 20 years and have seen mistakes happen.”

Tanya, 30, mum to Cassie, 2

“I saw how quickly an allergic reaction to milk could occur when my eldest ate her first first fromage frais”

“Within minutes of her finishing it, a rash appeared on her mouth. She was sick and, when I undressed her, she was covered in what looked like nettle rash. I panicked, thinking it was meningitis until I called the doctor. Milly was able to started eating dairy at 18 months and now loves it.”

Jane, 25, mum to Milly 3 and Sam, 19 months

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Don’t eliminate foods from your baby’s diet with professional advice.

If you suspect your baby has a food allergy or intolerance, what should you do next?

Should you avoid suspect foods?

You shouldn’t try to work out what your baby’s allergic to by eliminating foods at home.

Seeking trained medical advice is the best way, explains Judy Moore, paediatric dietician. 

If your baby does have an allergy…

If your baby does have an allergy, controlling what she eats at home should be relatively straightforward, but once she’s old enough to venture out and about things can get tricky.

Will your baby grow out of her food allergy?

The good news is you probably won’t have to watch what your baby eats forever. Many children grow out of egg, milk, soy and wheat allergies.

However, there’s only a 25% chance of out-growing a peanut allergy.

Mums’ stories

“William’s throat closed up when I gave him milk but luckily his reactions have stopped”

“William’s had everything from a runny nose to swollen eyes, which he had recently after holding a cashew nut. More frighteningly, he felt his throat closing up after being mistakenly given some milk. Thankfully, giving him the antihistamine Piriton has halted the reactions so far.”

Lucy, 28, mum to Francesca, 5, William, 4, and Sam, 1

“My son’s egg allergy makes birthday parties a nightmare”

“Tom has an egg allergy and at parties he makes a bee-line for the cake. It’s hard for him as he realises he’s missing out. Thankfully, his reaction to egg doesn’t cause any real harm.”

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Fern, 35, mum to Thomas, 3, and twins William and Henry, 15 months

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