How to introduce allergenic foods to your baby

Advice about the introduction of allergenic foods to babies has changed in recent years. In this blog, you’ll learn how to introduce allergenic foods to your baby following the latest, evidence-based recommendations.

Parents often feel uncertain or confused about introducing allergenic foods to their baby. If you’re a millennial parent (like our founder, Chelsea) you’ve probably heard or received conflicting advice from your mum and other family members, within parenting groups, and perhaps from your friends. Previous advice recommended that parents should avoid introducing common allergenic foods until their children were aged 1-3 years. This advice has since been changed.

In 2015, groundbreaking research called the “Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study demonstrated that the early introduction of peanuts to at-risk babies could reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by as much as 81%. Findings from the LEAP study (as well as other subsequent research studies) led international medical authorities to revise their recommendations about the introduction of common food allergens. Allergists and medical organisations now recommend the early introduction of common food allergens.

How to introduce allergic foods to your baby

Introduce all common allergens before your baby turns one. The most common food allergens are cow’s milk, egg, fish, sesame, shellfish, soy, peanut, tree nuts, and wheat. Australia’s Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend that parents and caregivers introduce solids to their baby around 6 months (but not before 4 months). Common allergenic foods can be offered from this time, onwards. All common allergenic foods should be introduced to your baby before their first birthday. This helps reduce the risk of your little one developing a food allergy.

Introduce allergens early in the day. Signs and symptoms usually occur within a few minutes (especially in young children) but they can appear 1-2 hours after eating a trigger food. Introducing a new food allergen in the morning allows you to observe your child during the day; and should an allergic reaction occur, it will be easier to contact a doctor for guidance.

Introduce allergens one at a time. Introduce one new allergenic food at a time (e.g., one new food at each meal). This way, if your bub does have an allergic reaction, you’ll be able to identify the problem food much easier.

Start with a small amount. Offering a very small amount of an allergenic food may help to reduce the severity of an allergic reaction. As a starting point, you can either rub a small amount of the allergenic food inside your baby’s lip or mix a small amount of the allergenic food (approximately ¼ teaspoon) into your baby’s usual food.

Watch for any signs of an allergic reaction. One of the biggest fears parents and caregivers have when introducing solids, is that their little one will have an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to food can be mild, moderate, or severe. Learn the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction here.

If your baby has difficulty breathing (or any other sign or symptom of a severe allergic reaction) when eating food, then call triple zero (000) immediately! If your baby has a mild or moderate allergic reaction when eating food, stop giving that food and seek medical advice from your general practitioner (GP).

If no allergic reaction occurs, increase the quantity. If your baby doesn’t show any signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food, and they seem to tolerate it well, you can gradually increase the amount of that food (e.g., ½ teaspoon) slowly working up to larger amounts.

Provide regular exposure. Continue offering allergenic foods to your baby regularly (twice weekly is recommended) as part of a varied diet. Don’t stress if you can’t serve every allergenic food that frequently (I’m looking at you prawns, crab, scallops, and lobster!) – just try to include them as often as you can manage. Some exposure is better than none.

References:

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. (2020). How to introduce solids foods for allergy prevention – Frequently asked questions. https://allergy.org.au/

Du Toit, G., et al. (2015). Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. The New England Journal of Medicine. 372(9), p 803-13. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1414850

National Allergy Strategy. 2023. “The learning early about peanut allergy (LEAP) study”. https://preventallergies.org.au/helpful-tools/the-learning-early-about-peanut-allergy-leap-study/

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