Food allergies affect about 10% of babies up to 12 months of age in Australia1. Most children outgrow their childhood allergies over time, although there are a few who persist for life.
Evidence shows that introducing solids to your baby at the right time can help reduce the chances of them developing an allergy. Some infants will still develop an allergy to foods, so it’s also important to recognize the signs and symptoms of food allergy and to know when to get help. Left untreated, some food allergies can be life-threatening.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system. If your baby is allergic to a certain food, their little body produces allergy antibodies which, in turn, can result in a range of symptoms and can affect your baby’s health.
Sometimes, the symptoms are immediate; more commonly they are delayed, slow developing and cause things like eczema or digestive issues which get worse over time.
Symptoms of food allergies
If you notice any swelling of the lips, eyes or face, hives or welts, vomiting or any change in your baby’s well-being (becoming very unsettled soon after giving a new food), your baby could be having an allergic reaction, so you should stop feeding your baby that food and seek medical advice.
If there are any symptoms of anaphylaxis (difficult/noisy breathing, pale and floppy, swollen tongue) call an ambulance immediately.
Information about the signs and symptoms of mild to moderate and severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) is on the ASCIA website.
Which foods cause allergies?
Some foods are more likely to cause allergic reactions than others. These include wheat-based foods (gluten), milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, sesame (tahini), peanuts, and treenuts (almonds, walnuts etc).
You should always monitor your baby closely when you first introduce a new food to their diet. Try to introduce food allergens one at a time and wait one or two days before introducing another allergen. This way, if an allergic reaction occurs it will be easier to identify which food is responsible.
Introducing solids and allergens to your baby
Start to introduce solid foods around 6 months, but not before 4 months, when your baby is ready. If possible continue to breastfeed your baby while you are introducing solid foods.
New research suggests it is best to introduce all major allergen foods (like the ones listed above) before 12 months of age. Nut and treenut butters are easiest and if you’re not sure which foods contain which allergens, ask your nutritionist, dietitian or doctor.
Delayed introduction of allergens (waiting until over 1 year) has been shown to be a potential cause of life long allergies or more severe allergies.
The one main allergenic food to avoid until after 12 months is honey and this is to do with botulism risk rather than the honey itself.
If your baby has an existing allergy, talk to your doctor about how to introduce other allergenic foods safely. For more information, you can also refer to the ASCIA information on how to introduce solid foods to babies for allergy prevention –
Diagnosis and treatment of food allergies
If you suspect that your baby is allergic to a certain food, you should pay a visit to your doctor or health professional before feeding her the trigger food again. Your doctor will advise on the most appropriate way to diagnose and treat the allergy.
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