Allergies, Babies and Children – the ABC

There’s not a lot scarier than seeing your baby or child have an allergic attack. Even if it’s not an immediate reaction, the delayed allergic reactions such as eczema, asthma, stomach or sleep problems can be just as harrowing for both the child and the parents with lasting physical and emotional effects. We hear a lot about how both immediate and delayed allergies are on the rise, but the advice that we receive is confusing. We’re either being too hygienic, or not clean enough. We’re supposed to delay feeding babies the most common problem foods, or we’re supposed to start them earlier.

The Facts

Food allergies currently affect between 6-8% of all children, and is most common in infants and toddlers.  Babies who develop eczema in the first 7 months of life will have the highest risk of developing food allergies as they get older, and once they have one immediate allergic reaction, they are much more likely to develop others.

The most common foods for immediate reaction allergies are eggs, dairy products and nuts. These 3 foods account for ¾ of all reactions in children.   For delayed reactions (2 hours later or more), the most common foods are milk, soy, gluten and eggs. Confusingly, it is possible to have an immediate allergic reaction to one food, and a delayed reaction to another.

Will they be allergic for life?

The good news is that the vast majority of children outgrow their allergies by the age of 5 years. The allergies that tend to persist are allergies to nuts, sesame and shellfish.

Medicine vs. Nutrition. A Gut Feeling.

In the old days, allergy consultants and nutritionists used to eye each other with suspicion. But with the rise in knowledge on gut health, the specialists are coming together now to give a much more comprehensive overview on how to treat allergies.  What we’re all talking about is the microbiome – the community of bacteria, fungi and microorganisms that lives in our intestines. This microbiome is essential for humans to live and thrive. When a baby is born, it has a sterile system. But literally everything it comes into contact with will start to seed the bacteria and other organisms that grow inside the gut. For instance, babies born by caesarean section and bottle-fed will have a very different microbiome to babies born vaginally and breast-fed. It is now thought that this difference in the microbiome can contribute to the likelihood of infantile allergies.

Antibiotics, although hugely important and necessary, can play havoc with the microbiome and it is now thought that the rise in antibiotic use may have contributed to the rise in paediatric allergies.

So instead of just being given steroid creams or inhalers for your child’s allergy, you are much more likely now to be told to cut out certain foods and take a course of probiotics. If the baby is breast fed, the mother will be instructed to cut out the foods. The effects can be dramatic, but it is important to conduct all food removals under the guidance of a trained professional rather than experimenting yourself. Before you take anything out of a child’s diet, you should be sure you are aware of replacing it to keep up the vitamin, mineral or nutrient content of their food.

To Clean, or not to clean?

Another important development has been the Hygiene Hypothesis. This is the idea that the increase in anti-bacterial cleaners has made our home environment completely bug free. When in fact, the baby or child needs to come into contact with more bugs and bacteria to build up a diverse microbiome or resistance to the more harmful ones. Children born on farms who spend a lot of time either outdoors, or with animals, tend to have much healthier digestive systems and far fewer allergies than children raised in cities. So letting the dog lick your baby’s face may not be such a bad idea after all! Let them eat dirt!

Bringing all this information together, the current advice is as follows:

Before pregnancy:  If you suffered from allergies yourself, or have a history of gut problems, consider having a gut test and microbiome analysis. Eat as varied diet as possible, containing both probiotic and prebiotic foods to support the microbiome.

During pregnancy:  Continue with the varied diet and consider taking some specialised probiotics.

After birth:  Breastfeed for as long as possible – 6 months is great. Think about adding some specialised baby probiotics, as the most important period of life for developing the microbiome is the first 18 months of life.

Weaning:  When you start adding solid foods, consult the DoH guidelines, which currently advise a high diversity of foods and early introduction of all foods to build up a tolerance.

If you have any concerns at all, it is worth consulting your doctor or a trained health and nutrition specialist.

Quote KMN19 for an extra 15% off a Mother & Baby Health Consultation available on the 4th Floor Harvey Nichols, RRP: £150 

By Sarah Carolides, MA, MPhil (Cantab), Dip ION (Dist)

Nutritional Therapist and Genetic Health Consultant – Beyond Medispa, Harvey Nichols, London.