To reduce the risk of food allergy & anaphylaxis, parents have often been told to avoid giving children specific foods at an early age. But is this the right approach? Probably not.
What’s the problem?
Food allergy among children is common, affecting up to 2 out of every 25 kids (8%) younger than 3 years of age. Allergies can be serious or fatal, and anaphylaxis in children seems to be increasing. To reduce the risk, parents have often been told not to give their children foods such as peanut, egg, dairy, etc. at an early age and many schools impose “no sharing” policies.
Reducing Peanut Allergies/Anaphylaxis
A year ago, doctors did a trial to assess if this avoidance was a good idea. Specifically, they did it with peanuts. They found out that children eating peanut products from an early age were much, much less likely to have allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. The trial was so convincing that doctors now suggest introducing peanut products before 6 months of age, especially in high risk children.
Reducing Other Food Allergies
OK, so much for peanuts, that’s only one of many foods which can cause problems. What about all those other things – wheat, dairy, egg, etc. Well, the peanut trial was so convincing that another one had to be done. Children between three and six months of age were to be fed 3 rounded teaspoons of smooth peanut butter, one small egg, two portions (40 to 60 g) of cow’s milk yogurt, 3 teaspoons of sesame paste, 25 g of white fish, and two wheat-based cereal biscuits every week. They were compared to babies who just breast-fed at that age. The kids were checked regularly up to the age of three.
So did this reduce food allergies or anaphylaxis?
Hard to say. Out of every 5 families who tried to do this, only 2 managed. Maybe because it’s challenging to feed a 3 month old all that food. Maybe baby couldn’t eat it. Whatever the reason, that’s not good enough for doctors to say for sure that you should be doing this. But…. In the ‘normal’ families who were breast feeding, about 2 in every 25 kids developed an allergy. Exactly what you’d expect. In the families who managed to feed their kids all the other foods, only 1 in 50 kids developed an allergy. Much lower than would be expected.
What can I do?
That’s up to you as a parent. It seems like giving kids food early on is a good idea and reduces allergies, but that’s not for sure yet. If you do, take care. At 3-6 months old, they’re not yet very good at chewing. Don’t let them choke on foods to try and reduce allergies! As usual, a balanced approach seems best. If you want to introduce these foods at an early age, be sure to prepare them in ways which are safe for your child. And as always, make sure you have the training to know how to recognise and deal with serious allergies.