With guest author Dr. Amna Husain, pediatrician and food allergy mom
As a pediatrician, parent, and food allergy mom, I know it can be scary when initially introducing potential food allergens to your young infant. Of course, the scariest potential food allergy reaction is anaphylaxis. The good news is, anaphylaxis israre. If you're unsure of what anaphylaxis is, it's a type of food allergy reaction that involves 2 organ systems (at least) and can occur seconds to minutes after someone eats food they are allergic to. It almost always occurs within two hours. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, so my approach as a pediatrician is to empower parents with knowledge of what a reaction might look like in their child and what to do if it does occur versus allowing them to be scared to try new foods.
Research shows that in infants and toddlers, the most common symptoms in babies and young children -- who have already developed a food allergy -- when eating a food they are allergic to are hives and vomiting. Not fun, but generally not terrifying. Rarely, it can also include swelling of the face, lips, and eyes. Typically, these are the most common symptoms we see in young babies. As you get older, your child may be at risk of other symptoms that involve the respiratory system or cardiovascular system. It’s important to have a discussion with your child’s pediatrician before beginning early introduction so they can counsel you on potential steps to ensure safety.
Your pediatrician may advise you about safe medications you can administer at home, but the treatment of choice for anaphylaxis is epinephrine. If this is your child's first reaction you may not have an EpiPen at home. If you do notice a reaction, call your pediatrician.
When you’re ready to introduce allergenic foods, choose a time when your baby is healthy and not recovering from a cold or stomach virus. Make sure that an adult can closely monitor your baby for at least two hours to watch for signs of a reaction. If you’re using an early introduction product with multiple allergens like SpoonfulONE and your child develops an allergic reaction, you may not know which food ingredient your child is reacting to immediately.
I always counsel parents on this possibility beforehand (although it is exceedingly rare) but also reassure parents that if they ever have concerns about their child’s safety they can call for back-up to the clinic or to 911 in case of an emergency. If a parent is ever worried about a child having an allergy, I recommend seeing the child’s pediatrician and even an allergist who will review together what food is causing the reaction and narrow down possibilities with testing.
As a parent, you can be empowered with the knowledge that early introduction of common allergens decreases food allergy risk for babies and children. Keeping up a diverse diet through infancy and toddlerhood is so important for not just great exposure but also food allergy protection without fear or hesitation. Enjoy feeding your babies and make sure you include foods that commonly cause allergies over and over again so that they never turn into trouble for your baby and family.