Christmas allergies in a Nutshell

It’s nearly Christmas…!! (as if you hadn’t noticed!) If your little one is at the exciting weaning stage, no doubt well-meaning Grandparents and friends are keen for your little one to try all sorts of different Christmas treats… but that can be stressful as a parent of a little one, particularly if you’re worried about allergies! So if you’re worried about introducing allergens into your tot’s diet, here are some tips.

Should I be worried?

Food allergies affect one in 12 babies. Therefore, it is more likely than not that your baby won’t have an allergy.

The foods most often associated with allergies are

  • Cow’s milk,
  • Egg
  • Wheat,
  • Gluten,
  • Soya
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Sesame and other seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (for a list of tree nuts, see the Allergy UK Tree Nut Factsheet).

If you are worried that your baby may have food allergies, consider the risk. These factors are often used to assess if your baby is more prone to an allergy:

  • Does your baby have a strong family history of allergy? This can be indicative of allergy susceptibility e.g. your baby has a sibling, a parent or another relative with a history of food allergy, eczema, hay fever, asthma, or other allergies;
  • Has your baby developed eczema early in life, particularly in the first 3-4 months which has persisted for a number of weeks, and do they already have a diagnosed cow’s milk allergy?   If both of these factors are present, there is a higher risk of other food allergies;
  • If your baby’s eczema isn’t under control and there is increased risk of allergy, it is preferable to wait until it is, before introducing allergenic foods. However, it’s often not recommended to delay introduction much past 6 months of age. Speak to your GP about seeing a specialist for advice if you are in any doubt.

If your baby shows any of the above risk factors we suggest a chat with your GP, Health Visitor or dietitian for some guidance before introducing allergens. It is also worth noting that recent research has found that babies who are at a higher risk of food allergy may benefit from earlier introduction of egg and then peanut to reduce the risk of allergies to these foods developing. 

Consider attending a Baby First Aid course for further guidance and peace of mind.

My baby is low risk for allergies – how do I introduce allergens safely?

If your baby has a low risk of allergy, specialists suggest that you can introduce any of the foods set out above as part of your daily meals, alongside the other foods you are feeding your baby.   A few precautions are advised when you first introduce them, such as:

  • Introducing allergens in the morning means baby can be observed all day. Avoid introducing those foods in the evenings or on days when your baby is at childcare if possible;
  • Introducing each allergen one at a time for three days will allow you to make sure that there is no immediate or delayed reaction and make it easier for you to identify the suspected food. If baby has no symptoms, the next food can be introduced;
  • Once potential allergens such as egg and peanut have been introduced, try to continue them in baby’s diet, at least twice a week to make sure they stay tolerant;
  • If you’re introducing a potential allergen for the first time, make sure that your baby is well and not suffering from something like a cold, cough or tummy upset as this can add a further burden to their immune system and make it more difficult to work out what, if any symptoms they might show are because of allergies.

It is worth knowing that not all adverse reactions to foods are because of allergy; for example, some foods e.g. strawberries, tomatoes, citrus fruits can irritate the skin and cause a red rash around the mouth after eating.  This is more common in babies with sensitive skin and eczema. Tots Table’s Chief Taste Tester had a reaction to strawberries and tomatoes! This doesn’t mean that your baby has an allergy and that the food needs to be avoided.   Experts suggest putting a dab of an emollient moisturiser around baby’s mouth before feeding to help prevent this type of contact reaction.

What does an allergic reaction look like?

It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction, in case your baby does have an allergy to a new food. Reactions can vary in severity from a mild intolerance to a severe anaphylactic reaction. If you have any concerns that your baby is reacting to a certain food, stop giving them that food and seek medical advice from a health professional.

  • A severe allergic reaction to food could result in the following symptoms (known as anaphylactic shock): Baby’s breathing being affected; suddenly appearing pale, inexplicable and sudden drowsiness, facial swelling and collapse;
  • If your baby demonstrates any of these symptoms, call an ambulance immediately, or go to your local A&E;
  • A less severe reaction could result in the these symptoms:
    • An itchy sensation inside baby’s mouth, throat or ears, a raised itchy red rash on their skin (sometimes known as hives), Swelling of baby’s face, around the eyes, lips, tongue and roof of the mouth, vomiting.
  • Some babies may suffer from delayed symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, worsening reflux, abdominal pain and worsening of eczema.

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, visit your GP.

If you are in any doubt, go to A&E or call 111.

Have a wonderful allergy free Christmas and a wonderful New Year and see you in 2020!

Victoria Bittle, Tots Table

Victoria Bittle is co-founder of Tots Table – a baby weaning delivery service, delivering expert designed meal kits and meal plans to parent’s doors, allowing busy parents to have baby’s perfect dinner on the table in the time it takes to make a cuppa! Tots table is currently crowdfunding to raise money so they can expand their delivery area across the UK. Check out the crowdfunding page here to find out more.

Vicky has been working as a Registered Dietitian for 10 years after graduating with an Honours Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has worked in a number of UK teaching hospitals specialising in Infant Nutrition, Paediatric Gastroenterology, Paediatric Allergy, Childhood Overweight & Obesity, Inherited Metabolic Disorders and Ketogenic diets.   She is currently leading an NHS paediatric ketogenic diet service in the South West of England and South Wales.

With thanks also to Allergy UK for some great resources.

For more information, see Allergy UK and the NHS