This is one of those topics that is difficult to get a definitive answer on. Depending on who you ask, potentially allergenic foods (like nuts, eggs, and fish) can be introduced into baby’s diet anywhere from 6-36 months. That narrows things down, right?
A few recent studies have shown that there’s actually no benefit to delayed introduction of potentially allergenic foods in terms of keeping your children from developing allergies. In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their policy statement to reflect this:
“Although solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age, there is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease regardless of whether infants are fed cow milk protein formula or human milk. This includes delaying the introduction of foods that are considered to be highly allergic, such as fish, eggs, and foods containing peanut protein.”
Give me a minute to get my objections out of the way here-
- Solid foods should not be introduced before 6 months of age.
- Ideally, babies should get their nutrition from breastmilk only for the first 6 months. If this is not possible, a dairy-free formula is the best choice.
There. I feel better. Moving on…
Many parents will read this and think, great, I can start giving my baby everything we eat! The advice that most traditional pediatricians will give about delaying the introduction of these allergenic foods is based on the idea that introducing an allergen too early may actually cause your baby to develop an allergy to that food. These recent studies, and the statement from the AAP above, suggest that it doesn’t actually work like that, which is good news. The new idea is that if your child is going to have an allergy to eggs, it’s going to be there whether you give them eggs as a baby or not.
BUT. Just because feeding a certain food to your child won’t cause an allergy later in life doesn’t mean that their little bodies won’t be sensitive to it right now. It’s important to remember that your child’s gut flora and enzymes are still developing and their digestive systems may not be able to handle some potentially allergenic foods.
I recommend waiting until your baby is a full year old to begin introducing things like tree nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and seafood. I also recommend holding off on peanuts until your child is at least 3. (Peanuts aren’t actually nuts at all- they’re legumes- and they’re prone to a certain kind of mold, one reason that so many children have issues with them.)
When you do begin to introduce potentially allergenic foods, remember to follow The 3-Day Rule. Introduce new foods one at a time and watch for any kind of reaction that might indicate a sensitivity or allergy. Symptoms to look for include sneezing, spitting up, runny nose, rashes (particularly around the mouth or diaper area), changes in stools, or changes in mood. If you suspect that a certain food is causing a reaction, stop offering that food and see if the symptoms clear up.
Every baby is different. Following a a schedule to the letter is less important than doing what works for your kids (although, I suggest checking out my guidelines as a great starting point). Do your little ones eat any of these potentially allergenic foods, or have allergies?