Worried that your child might develop food allergies
? As it turns out, one of the best ways to prevent allergies later in life is to make sure kids eat potentially troublesome foods when they are very young.
A growing body of evidence supports such an approach. For example, a 2019 study of more than 1,300 infants in England and Wales found that children introduced to allergenic foods at 3 months of age were less likely to develop food allergies than infants solely breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives.
Just 19.2% of children introduced to allergenic foods early in life went on to develop food allergies. That compares to 34.2% of children who later developed food allergies after not being exposed to allergenic foods at a very young age.
Changing theories about when to introduce foods
These recent findings run counter to previous theories.
In the past, parents were told to delay introduction of allergens -- such as nuts
, peanuts and eggs -- until a child was 2 years old, says Kelly Jones
, a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian nutritionist and mom who was not involved in the British study.
But as researchers have learned more about how allergies develop, expert advice has changed.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends exposing your child to these foods between 4 (months) and 6 months of age," says Jones, who also is a certified specialist in sports dietetics.
Jones says she understands why some parents may be reluctant to embrace the new recommendations regarding early allergen introduction.
“It can be easy to want to trust whatever you did for an older child, or what your parents did when you began eating,” she says.
In addition, some parents might worry about harming their children by introducing potential allergens at a young age, although Jones says most adverse reactions tend to be mild.
“Anaphylactic shock is unlikely in an infant” she says. “Early allergy signs upon first exposures to foods are more likely to be rashes, digestive symptoms or runny noses.”
Safety tips for introducing allergenic foods early
Jones notes that allergy rates have increased dramatically among the general population in recent decades, making it more important to take steps to prevent such allergies from developing.
However, she also says many parents have legitimate fears that introducing allergenic foods early in life puts their kids in danger of choking on foods such as peanuts, almonds and cashews.
“Even offering them in peanut or nut butter form can be too sticky for infants to safely swallow,” Jones says.
To introduce such foods safely, she suggests trying no-sugar-added peanut butter puff snacks
Or, mix no-sugar-added peanut butter powder
or almond butter powder
with water “so it has a more liquid texture.” Mix these liquids with the child’s normal foods, such as baby cereals
or oatmeal. You can even add them in small amounts to a bottle or smoothie.
Scrambled eggs also are a “completely acceptable” food to offer a 6-month-old, since children that age can pick up the eggs and put them in their mouth themselves.
“Many parents are also not aware that babies can begin eating solid foods, so long as they are soft enough, without having to rely on purees first,” Jones says.
Jones says her website has a recipe for easy infant pancakes
– which are also rich in iron – that offers a “nice soft option that exposes the infant to eggs, nuts and/or peanuts.”
“Some companies have even come out with products to make introduction easier, including fruit and veggie pouches with allergenic foods added,” Jones says.
Getting more help
In addition to worrying about how their children might react to allergenic foods, some parents might feel they are at risk of harming themselves if they have allergies to the foods they are trying to introduce to their kids.
If you have such concerns – or any others -- consider reaching out to your family doctor. “High-risk families should always speak with their pediatrician before introducing allergenic foods to their infant,” Jones says.
She adds that you can also request your infant be exposed to allergenic foods for the first time in the doctor's office, or ask for a referral to a pediatric registered dietitian.