Discovering Infant Food Allergies
When my oldest son was a baby, I was a real stickler for trying to do everything right for him. (I’ve loosened up considerably since then.) I took introducing new foods very seriously. I waited until he was six months old and then added foods at a rate of no more than one new one per week for the first several months.
When he was nine months old, I tried him on dairy for the first time with yogurt and he ate it up quite happily. Unfortunately he turned bright red all around his mouth. He looked sort of like a baby clown with very wide red lips. The reaction didn’t seem to irritate him in any way. He didn’t cry or try to scratch it, but it didn’t look good.
I called my pediatrician about it and he said to wait a couple of weeks and try again. It was the same thing a few weeks later. My son ate the yogurt and turned bright red in the face and then turned the same color on his bottom. The doctor didn’t recommend formal allergy testing for the baby at that time. He thought that was a pretty clear indication of an allergy and advised us not to give him any dairy products for several months. Instead we introduced soy, which he tolerated without any reaction and when I weaned him off breast milk, he went to soymilk.
Luckily for us, dairy was the only food allergy we discovered in our son as an infant and it was very clear that he was reacting to it. I’ve had friends agonize over trying to figure out if their babies were allergic to particular foods because it seemed to bring on a spate of diarrhea or unusual rash or even lots of gas. My son’s face was like a stop sign for that one food and not for anything else.
If the reaction is less dramatic, it can be very hard to tell if the child is allergic or not without testing. This is why doctors and baby books advise you to introduce new foods slowly and one at a time. It does make it a bit easier to see a correlation between a new food and a sudden onset of allergic symptoms. If your child does seem to be allergic, the easiest thing to do is to eliminate that food from her diet and try re-introducing it again several months later. Babies’ guts are maturing rapidly as they become accustomed to eating a variety of foods and a strong reaction when a food is first introduced can be quickly outgrown.
With infants, having one or two food allergies is not that much of a hardship. It is relatively easy to control what your baby eats. The challenge for kids and parents comes later when children know what they are missing and do more of their eating away from parents or the handful of adults who are most likely to take the child’s allergy diet seriously.
With my son, we tried yogurt again at twenty months and he was fine. No rash, no upset stomach, nothing. We were delighted to be able to introduce him to the wonderful world of dairy products of which we’d been guiltily depriving him for what seemed like forever. My husband and I were horrified to discover that he actually preferred soy cream cheese to the real thing at first. But I’m glad to say he’s over that now and is a real cheese snob. He likes very stinky goat cheese and really creamy Brie.
There is so much discussion and awareness of food allergies these days that new parents sometimes worry needlessly about it. If you’re not sure if a food is causing a reaction, check with your doctor. But there’s no need to assume that every rash or stomach upset is a sign of food allergy. And if your baby does turn out to be allergic, the odds are good that he’ll outgrow it within his first few years of life. In fact, a recent study found that most children outgrow dairy and egg allergies by their third birthday. This study, conducted by the University of Portsmouth, analyzed 800 babies for three years and interestingly, at the beginning of the study, one third of all moms claimed their babies had food allergies. These moms determined a food allergy due rashes, itching, hives or eczema, as well as tummy aches, vomiting, wheeziness, and coughing.
At the conclusion of the study, it was determined that just twenty-seven babies were allergic to any food by the age of three, and fewer than sixty had ever actually had a food allergy.
With that said, the main culprits for most allergies are milk, eggs, fruit (mainly strawberries and citrus fruit), additives, wheat, peanuts, fish, and soya. Experts agree that most allergies can be outgrown—except fish and peanut allergies.