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Weaning and food allergies

Weaning and food allergies
Jodi Harris

According to Allergy UK, almost 1 in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy and allergies, intolerance and sensitivities seem to be getting more common.

Weaning plays an important role in identifying allergies, managing them and even reducing the risk of developing them in the first place.

Is your baby at risk of developing food allergies? 
If mum, dad, grandparents or siblings suffer from allergies, the risk of your baby developing an allergy to food is increased.
Baby eczema, especially if it started soon after birth and is severe, also increases the risk of developing a food allergy.
If your baby is allergic to eggs and/or suffers from eczema their risk of developing a peanut allergy is also heightened.

Timing of weaning and allergies: 

Timing of solids introduction is important because early introduction (before 4-6 months) of certain foods such as wheat, gluten dairy, citrus, eggs and fish can increase the risk of developing food allergies. Here is why:

Baby’s gut continues to mature during their first year of life and might not be mature enough at 4-6 months to digest certain proteins, fats or complex carbohydrates
Additionally, baby’s gut is not completely sealed until he or she reaches 6 months which means that proteins could enter the blood stream and trigger an immune reaction.
Babies are born without bacteria in their guts – other than that obtained from the mum’s birth canal during delivery. Their gut bacteria develops over the first few months of life and is supported by the immune factors found in breastmilk. So when breastfeeding is not an option or delivery was by C-section, a good infant probiotic may be recommended by your GP or nutrition practitioner 2 to support baby’s gut flora.

How to wean your baby to reduce the risk of food allergies? 
Between 4 and 6 months, introduce gluten-free cereals, fruit and vegetables (not citrus) and avoid wheat and gluten and limit proteins to chicken, pulses and meat. From 6 months and after you have started you baby on vegetables and gluten and wheat-free foods, you can start introducing wheat, gluten and other animal proteins including eggs, fish and dairy. Although remember that eggs need to be cooked through and cow’s/goat’s/sheep’s/non-dairy milk cannot be used as baby’s main drink until 12months. Breast of formula milks should be baby’s main drink and an important source of nutrients and calories for your baby.

When introducing potentially allergenic foods such as wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, fish, seafood, nuts and peanuts, introduced them individually. Also, introduce a new food every three days so you have time to watch for symptoms of any potential allergy, intolerance or sensitivity- a food and symptoms diary can be quite helpful!

What do food allergy symptoms look like? 

Immediate symptoms:
Vomiting, diarrhoea, gas, stomach cramps
Itching, flushing, developing a rash
Swelling around the face, sneezing, watery eyes.
Most severe symptoms indicative of a potential anaphylactic shock include
Difficult breathing
Wheezing
Swelling of tongue/throat.
If these symptoms appear, contact your GP or hospital immediately.
Delayed symptoms: eczema, gut swelling, gas and bloating, reflux, delayed growth, constipation/diarrhoea

How about gluten then?  
It is advisable to introduce non-gluten cereals before wheat and other gluten grains like barley or rye because they are less allergenic and give baby’s gut a little more time to mature.

The health authorities recommend to avoid consumption of large quantities of gluten should be avoided during infancy. We agree because we all eat too much wheat, and therefore gluten, which doesn’t promote a varied diet and may increase the risk of developing a sensitivity or intolerance later in life.

It is important that wheat and gluten are introduced on their own and no new foods are offered within three days so you can identify any allergy, intolerance or sensitivity symptoms. If any symptoms are identified, avoid and contact your GP or nutritional therapist to discuss what steps to take next.

And when can baby have dairy?

Similarly to wheat and gluten, dairy should be avoided until 6 months. After that it can be introduced as part of a weaning diet but not as a main drink until 12 months of age.

It is important that cow’s dairy is introduced on its own and no new foods are offered within three days so you can identify any allergy, intolerance or sensitivity symptoms. If any symptoms are identified avoid and contact your GP or nutritional therapist to discuss what steps to take next.

Goats and sheep’s milk and dairy products may be a good alternative if an allergy to cow’s milk is identified. Remember to also introduce these milks as cow’s dairy, on their own and no new foods are offered within three days so you can identify any allergy, intolerance or sensitivity symptoms. If any symptoms are identified, avoid and contact your GP or nutritional therapist to discuss what steps to take next.

Now, the biggest question of all…are nuts OK? 

The current NHS guidance is that nuts and peanuts can be introduced from 6 months onwards but please remember that they must be well crushed or made into a nut butter to avoid the risk of choking.
However, if your baby is at a higher risk of developing a food allergy, especially if he or she suffers from eczema or is allergic to eggs, seek medical advice to assess his or her risk and undertake allergy tests.
There are some interesting and encouraging research reports like the LEAP4 study that found that “babies with eczema and/or egg allergy, who are more likely to develop peanut allergy, are less likely to do so when they are given small amounts of peanut protein from early life” following evaluation by a paediatric allergy specialist.

Written by Purple Carrot Nutrition: https://purplecarrotnutrition.co.uk/