There is a fair bit of confusion around how to prevent allergies in children.
I find that many parents are surprised when I recommend egg or nut paste to babies under 12 months.
It was the case that health professionals used to recommend only introducing those foods after 12 months. However, now that we’ve done more research, we know that waiting to introduce those foods at 12 months may in fact cause an increase in the risk of allergies.
So what can you do to decrease the risk of allergy?
Recommendations for all babies:
- Breastfeed for at least six months, and keep breastfeeding while introducing food.
- Don’t start solids before 4 months, and no later than 6 months.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy and don’t expose your baby to any smoke during infancy.
There appears to be a genetic component to allergies – so if a child’s parents, or siblings, have any allergies, then extra precautions should be taken.
Extra precautions for at-risk children:
- If you choose not to breastfeed, use a partially hydrolysed (hypo-allergenic or ‘HA’) cow’s milk formula.
- Introduce one new food every 2-3 days.
Should I restrict allergenic foods during pregnancy?
The current recommendation both from ASICA (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) and the AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) is that no foods should be restricted in pregnancy. Restricting foods in pregnancy could mean that both mum and baby don’t have the best nutrition they can.
There is some evidence restricting foods will reduce the risk of allergy – but only for that food.
It is impossible to completely remove all allergens from any diet – children can be allergic to almost anything.
If your specialist does recommend removing certain foods from your diet during pregnancy, make sure you do so under the supervision of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
My child has an allergy – did I do something wrong?
All of these tactics only reduce the risk, not absolutely avoid it. We simply don’t know exactly why some kids have allergies and some don’t.
Until we know exactly how allergies happen, babies will still have allergies. Managing allergies can be annoying, but it’s not the end of the world.
There’s so much support out there, and kids with allergies usually very bright, and manage their allergies very well.
Further reading here.