1 May 2012

Infant Feeding and Allergies

Allergies are not uncommon in babies and young children. These include food allergies, coeliac disease and eczema. This article summarizes the current recommendations about infant feeding and weaning to minimize the risk of allergic conditions.

1. Should I avoid certain foods to reduce allergic problems in my child while I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

There is no convincing evidence from scientific studies that dietary restrictions are effective in reducing the risk of allergic disease in children. There is no point for pregnant and  breastfeeding mothers to eliminate specific foods from their diet. Moreover, they run the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Fish, for instance, is the best source of omega 3, which are essential for the growth and development of the fetus and young infants.

2. Does exclusive breastfeeding reduce allergic problems in children?

Breastfeeding up to 4 months of age reduces the risk of eczema in high-risk infants. Hypo-allergenic milk formulas give a similar benefit. Breastfeeding also provides some protection against wheezing in infants and toddlers.

4. Should I delay the introduction of solid foods to reduce the risk of allergic disease?

There is no convincing evidence that delaying food beyond 4 to 6 months reduces allergic conditions in children. Indeed there is evidence that delaying the introduction of food may increase the risk of food allergy.

5. When should I start weaning my baby?

Complementary feeding should be started between 4 to 6 months of life, but not before or after this period. The baby is ready to start solid food when he can support his head, shows interest in food, and weighs around six kilograms.

6. Should I delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, such as fish and eggs, especially if my baby is at risk of allergy?

Postponing such food items after the first birthday has not been shown to reduce allergies even in those who are considered to be at high risk. Wheat-based foods, well-cooked eggs, dairy and fish may be introduced after 6 months of age.

7. Can I use cow’s milk before my baby is one year?

Breast-milk or formula milk should remain the main source of milk until the baby’s first birthday because cow's milk in nutritionally inadaquate. Small amounts of cow’s milk added to food (e.g. mashed potatoes) and dairy products such as full-fat yoghurt and cheese, can be included with other weaning foods.

8. When is the best time to introduce wheat to prevent coeliac disease and wheat allergy?

Avoid both early (less than 4 months) and late (more than seven months) introduction of gluten. Wheat and other gluten-containing foods should be introduced gradually, ideally while still breast-feeding, at aroung 6 months of age.