Want to prevent food allergies in your children? Introduce allergens early and often.
In 2015, a ground-breaking study demonstrated that babies with a high risk of developing food allergies were about 80% less likely to develop peanut allergy later in life if they were regularly exposed to peanuts before their first birthday.1
While the old advice from the medical community was to withhold allergens until a child was three years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization now recommend that peanuts and other common food allergens be introduced well before baby’s first birthday. Further, the AAP declared that there is no reason to delay the introduction of any food allergens.2
How to introduce food allergens to babies
Before you introduce the major food allergens, it’s important to know if your baby is at risk of developing food allergies. If your baby has a family history of food allergies, or has had or has eczema or asthma, the risk for developing food allergies is higher. If your baby has any of the above risk factors, it would be wise to work with a pediatric allergist early on in your solid food journey. Otherwise, aim to introduce the common allergens between 6 and 12 month of age unless otherwise instructed by your allergist or doctor. Some tips on introducing allergens:
- Start small: The less of the allergen served, the less severe an allergic reaction should be, so start off with scant amounts, such as ¼ teaspoon (or less) of a finely-ground nut added to your baby’s bowl of oatmeal, or one small piece cooked egg.
- Introduce one allergen at a time. This way if there is a reaction, you’ll know which food was responsible. Most allergic reactions show themselves a couple of hours of consumption and often within minutes. Pick a pace that feels right to you and enables you to introduce a wide variety of new foods well before your child’s first birthday.
- Introduce allergens at breakfast: Most allergic reactions occur within two hours of consuming it (and often just minutes). Introducing the allergen early in the day gives you time during the day to observe your child and should an allergic reaction occur, you will have more time before naps and bedtime to deal with it.
- Regular exposure: Once you’ve safely introduced a food allergen to your child, keep that food in regular rotation—ideally offering it to your baby on a weekly basis.
For sample allergen introduction schedules and more tips on introducing allergens at home, check out our Guides.
As an allergy mom, I know first hand how scary allergic reactions can be. If it feels scary to you, try to look at it this way: deliberately introducing small or scant amount of allergens will give you more information earlier and likely prevent a worse scenario down the road. You’ll know what allergies exist, if any, and can take the appropriate precautions early in your child’s life. And then when you wave goodbye at kindergarten—when food is less in your control—you might just have more peace of mind.
- FARE, Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP). [website]. (Retrieved March 3, 2020)
- American Academy of Pediatrics, Clinical Report Highlights Early Introduction of Peanut-Based Foods to Prevent Allergies. [website] (retrieved November 1, 2019)