Introducing allergens to your baby early on is essential to helping lower your little one’s risk of allergies later in life. Affecting up to 1% of children and known as one of the most common food allergies, grains like oats and wheat can be found in food items like cereals and crackers, as well as non-food items, like cosmetics and bath products.
While thankfully up to 65% of those children may outgrow this allergy by age 12 years, grain allergies can have a huge impact on your child’s quality of life during this period, or later in life.
Though there are many different types of grains that your child can develop allergies towards, according to Dr. David Jeong, Section Head of Allergy and Immunology at Virginia Mason Medical Center, "wheat is the most common grain allergen in foods and all others are fairly infrequent.”
Thanks to landmark clinical studies, we now know that introducing babies to grains early and consistently, before they turn one, is essential.
According to Dr. David Jeong, there is "no order to which it's recommended to introduce grains.” In fact, he makes a point to say, “it's not the order that matters, but getting them all introduced early and consistently!”
Alongside Dr. David Jeong’s recommendation, the 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines suggests that, along with most allergenic foods, grain and wheat proteins should be introduced with solids to babies around 4-6 months.
As grains are one of the most prominent allergy-causing foods in infants and children, these proteins, especially wheat, are an important nutritional addition.
Is your baby ready for their first taste? Here are our favorite ways to introduce grains to your baby for the first time:
Grains like wheat and oats can be introduced to your baby in a variety of forms. Wheat porridge or oatmeal is a great place to start, along with wheat or oat cereal that has been softened with breastmilk or formula. If your child has moved on to finger foods, wheat toast or crackers are another great way to introduce your child to this allergen.
Often confused with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a grain allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to proteins found in wheat. A grain allergy (or “IgE-mediated food allergy”) will result in reactions such as hives or vomiting, or less commonly anaphylaxis.
Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation and damage in the small intestine when ingesting gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. With celiac disease, you can suffer from weight loss, digestive distress, and other symptoms as you lack the enzymes you need to absorb or process wheat. This is not the same as a food allergy that stems from an IgE (antibody) response.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a condition that causes digestive problems triggered by the introduction of gluten-containing foods. While the body’s reaction is similar to that of other food sensitivities, the condition still remains ill-defined and debated whether it’s caused by gluten or other components of wheat.
As some symptoms of an allergy can overlap with sensitivity, such as stomach cramps and diarrhea, it is crucial to speak with your pediatrician and get an accurate diagnosis if these reactions occur or you worry about your baby’s response to food.