Has your little one ever had a reaction to something they’ve eaten? Or maybe you’re starting solids and want to know how to properly introduce allergenic foods? Properly identifying your child’s reaction to certain foods can be challenging.
The terms “food allergy” and “food sensitivity” are often used interchangeably. This is because they both have some overlapping symptoms, which can make them easy to misinterpret. However, they each require vastly different management—meaning the steps you take for an allergy are VERY different than the steps you take for a sensitivity, both in the immediate and the long-term.
Identifying a food allergy: immediate – 2 hours
The reaction associated with a food allergy will happen quickly — often within minutes, but it can be any time within 2 hours after consuming the trigger food. If your child develops symptoms after this 2 hour window, then it’s likely not a true food allergy.
Pros vs cons of an allergy
Pro: The quick reaction time can make allergies easier to identify.
Con: Severe anaphylactic allergic reactions can be life threatening. Also, some allergies persist lifelong, which can have a serious and lasting impact on your child’s life.
Identifying a food sensitivity: 2+ hours – 3 days
The reaction associated with a food sensitivity is more delayed, with symptoms presenting anywhere between a few hours to 3 days.
Pros vs cons of a sensitivity
Pro: Food sensitivities are a clear sign that the gut isn’t functioning properly, which can be a blessing in disguise, because sensitivities typically resolve when the digestive and immune system are properly supported. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Con: The delay of symptoms makes food sensitivities more difficult to determine.
Introducing allergenic foods
Introducing allergenic foods is a significant part of starting solids, and it’s important that you know how to proceed.
Previous guidelines suggested delaying the introduction of high-risk foods until after a baby’s first birthday. However, current research shows that early exposure is KEY. In fact, introducing allergenic foods between 6-12 months actually decreases your baby’s potential risk.⠀⠀⠀⠀
While any food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction, there are 8 high-risk allergenic foods that make up 90% of all reactions in children. It’s not make or break, but I personally prefer introducing them in this order:
egg yolk > tree nuts > peanuts > fish > shellfish > soy > egg whites > dairy > wheat.
(You may notice that that’s 9, not 8, because I suggest introducing the egg yolk and egg white separately, as egg whites are more likely to cause a reaction.)
How to introduce the top allergenic foods to babies:
Introduce each allergenic food one at a time (so not peanut butter on top of wheat bread), at the beginning of your baby’s longest awake period to monitor for reactions (so not just before a nap).
Don’t offer too much too soon. Begin with a small taste to start, wait 10 minutes for an immediate reaction, then offer more (no more than 2 tsp).
Wait 4 full days to monitor for a delayed reaction.
Repeat these steps with the same food, for a total of 3 introductions.
Move onto the next allergenic food.⠀⠀⠀⠀
Other low-risk foods can be introduced at a quicker pace or in combination with other foods. I also recommend that your baby’s VERY first introduction to solid food be done with a low-risk food, not one of the top 8 allergenic foods. While early exposure to allergens is important, you want your baby’s very first bite to be as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
What to watch for?
Again, remember that the course of action you should take is dependent on when the reaction occurs: