Allergy Awareness Week is Monday 26th - 30th April 2021!
This year, we have teamed up with Paula Hallam, a specialist paediatric dietitian, founder of Tiny Tots Nutrition and author of the brilliant ebook How To Introduce Food Allergens To Your Baby When Starting Solids.
We know that weaning can be a daunting and anxious time for parents, especially when it comes to introducing allergens! Paula has shared with us some of her expert tips on introducing allergens to your baby during the weaning stage, to help parents gain confidence when it comes to introducing allergens to their baby.
What is the current medical advice on introducing allergens to babies?
According to Paula, "There is a growing body of evidence that introducing food allergens - particularly egg and peanuts - to babies within the first year of life may help prevent allergies to those foods from developing later in life.
In the past it was advised to delay the introduction of common allergenic foods to babies beyond 1 year of age, but this advice has changed based on the latest research findings. It is now advised to not delay the introduction of food allergens beyond 6 months of age and to aim to introduce these foods to babies within the first year of life."
How common are food allergies in babies?
Paula states "Today, 1 in 12 children under the age of 3 have a food allergy in the UK, with cow's milk, egg, and peanuts being the most common food allergies in babies."
However, it's important to remember that most food allergies in babies and children are mild, and severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) is very rare.
What are the most common food allergens?
The top 9 food allergens which according to Paula Hallam, "are responsible for 90% of all food-related allergic reactions" are:
- Cow's milk
- Tree nuts
At Mamamade, our baby and toddler meals are from these most common allergenic foods.
This doesn't mean we don't think allergens should be introduced during weaning (quite the opposite!). But this does mean is that parents are able to introduce allergens at their own pace alongside our means, and also parents whose babies do suffer from common food allergies have peace of mind that our meals will not trigger these.
When should I start introducing allergens to my baby?
Firstly, you need to be sure that your baby is developmentally ready to start being fed solids. Read our blog When Should I Start Weaning My Baby?
How you introduce allergens to your baby depends on whether they are at a higher risk of developing allergies. Your baby will be considered at higher risk if they have either:
- Early onset eczema, particularly severe cases
- An existing food allergy
If your baby is at higher risk, Hallam says "it may be beneficial to introduce (well-cooked) eggs and peanuts to your baby between 4-6 months of age, alongside other solid foods." However, you should speak to your GP or health visitor first.
For all other babies, "introduce eggs and peanuts, as well as other allergens, from around 6 months of age (after first tastes of solid food) and aim to introduce all the allergens by 12 months of age."
Tips for introducing allergens
Paula recommends the following when introducing allergens:
Start early in the day. This means you can observe your baby for any signs of an allergic reaction
Introduce one allergenic food at a time. This means you can spot an allergic reaction if it occurs and know which food was most likely to be responsible.
Start with a small amount. As a precaution, so if there is an allergic reaction, it will hopefully be less severe.
Make sure your baby is well. If they are ill, teething, or struggling with eczema, make sure this is dealt with first before introducing allergens.
How to introduce common food allergens
You can introduce eggs as hard boiled and sliced for BLW, mashed or pureed with your baby's usual milk. Egg is more likely to cause an allergic reaction if it's raw or lightly cooked, so make sure your baby's egg is well-cooked!
It used to be advised that peanuts were avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding and not introduced during weaning, however that advice has now changed and the introduction of peanuts (in ground or butter form) is now encouraged.
You can introduce peanuts as smooth peanut butter (may need to be thinned down with water of baby's usual milk), or in a ground or powdered form. We recommend looking for a brand that's 100% peanuts, as some have added salt and sugar which isn't suitable for babies. You can stir a small amount of peanut butter or ground peanut into porridge, or spread onto toast and offered as fingers if you're doing BLW.
Read our blog How To Introduce Peanuts To Your Baby.
You can introduce tree nuts similarly to how peanuts are introduced, the best way is probably as nut butters. Remember, whole nuts are a choking hazard, so don't introduce whole or chopped nuts to babies, toddlers or young children under 5.
Read our blog on Gagging vs Choking - The Differences You Need To Know.
Wheat can be introduced through wheat-based cereal, couscous, pasta or as bread.
Full fat, plain Greek yoghurt is a great way to introduce dairy to your little one. You can also introduce a small amount of cheese.
The most common food allergy for babies is actually Cow's Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA).
Read our blog on the Signs and Symptoms of CMPA.
Most bread in the UK contain soya flour, so once your baby has been introduced to wheat you can try offering bread to see if he or she tolerates soya. After that, if tolerated, you could offer tofu or soya yogurt.
You can offer oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or pilchards (with no added salt) and white fish such as cod, haddock or plaice. As fish is usually soft when cooked, you can offer it to your baby flaked or mashed with some pureed vegetables with your baby's usual milk, or as finger food such as a fish cake made using mashed potato.
Cooked shellfish such as prawns or crab can be introduced in a similar way to other fish, either added to a puree or made into a fishcake.
Sesame is best introduced either as tahini or as hummus, which contains tahini. Add this to vegetable purees, or offer as a dip for finger foods.
Variety is key!
Like most things when it comes to weaning, variety is key when introducing allergens to your little one. Dr Hallam says that offering your baby a varied diet during weaning is "very important for establishing a healthy gut microbiome which in turn has many positive health benefits and may help with food allergy prevention."
Keep their diet varied, and once you've introduced an allergen, keep offering it every so often and continuing to monitor your little one for reactions.
For more top tips on introducing allergens during weaning, get your copy of Paula Hallam's ebook How To Introduce Allergens To Your Baby, which contains research-backed tips on introducing allergens and practical advice and scenarios to help parents gain confidence in introducing allergens. Paula's ebook is intended for all babies who are low risk and high risk for developing allergies, so it's a must-read for all parents embarking on their weaning journey!
Paula Hallam is a mum of two, a paediatric dietitian with over 20 years of experience working in top London children's hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina Children's Hospital. She is the founder of Tiny Tots Nutrition - a children's nutrition practice that specialises in helping families of children with food allergies, fussy eaters and those with feeding difficulties. She also offers guidance on introducing solids to babies and optimising nutrition for plant-based families.
Follow Paula on Instagram at @tinytotsnutrition.