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Top Food Allergy Questions Answered by Dr. Amna Husain, Pediatrician and Food Allergy Mom

October 28, 2021 3 min read

As a pediatrician and food allergy mom, I get lots of questions about infant nutrition, food allergies, and risk factors. Parents often report that there is so much differing information out there and recommendations can feel confusing. I’ve aggregated a list of the top questions and provided responses hoping to offer more clear guidance.

What is the difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy?

Food sensitivities are non-specific and can be characterized as a baby crying or being fussy after a parent has eaten a certain food. If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, the reaction is triggered by the digestive system. It occurs when you are unable to properly break down the food. This could be due to enzyme deficiencies, or even a sensitivity to certain food additives.  It could also be characterized as reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods.

Symptoms of food sensitivity or intolerances will vary by individuals depending on the type of food eaten and the amount eaten. Often, symptoms will include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain or cramping, heartburn, and nausea. I recommend keeping a food diary to determine if you notice a consistent pattern and avoid particular foods causing sensitivities temporarily. 

On the other hand, food allergies occur when the child has an allergic reaction to a certain food. When you have a true food allergy, your immune system causes the reaction. Your immune system targets the food protein as being harmful, and overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. Common signs of allergic reactions in babies include hives and vomiting after ingestion of a particular food. 

What are the most common food allergens?

The most common food allergens include milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, shellfish, fish, and sesame.

Can breastfeeding protect my baby from developing food allergies?

There are a limited number of studies that show a correlation between breastfeeding and the prevention of food allergy development. Study results are often affected by other dietary habits, such as the length and extent of exclusive breastfeeding and the associated presence of eczema and asthma. However, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of eczema which we know severe eczema is a risk factor for food allergy development.

If my child has a confirmed food allergy can I still breastfeed him/her?

Yes! However, if your child has a confirmed food allergy and you are nursing, your pediatric allergist will advise you to not eat those foods while nursing to prevent exposure to the allergen. 

Be sure to not only check your food labels but also your medication and supplement labels!

When is the best time to introduce my child to common food allergens?

Waiting on introduction to common allergens can increase a child’s risk of developing an allergy. It is recommended that you introduce your child to all common allergens like eggs, fish, and peanut butter between 4-6 months of age. You can introduce these foods via purees at 4 months of age or via baby-led weaning at 6 months of age. If you are exclusively breastfeeding you can add an introduction vehicle, such as SpoonfulONE, to a bottle of breastmilk if your baby is not yet ready to start solids. 

I also always advise my patient to make sure this is a daily, consistent habit. Feeding common allergens is not a one-and-done task, and it takes consistent exposure to reduce their risk.

Can my child outgrow their food allergy?

Outgrowing food allergies is dependent on several factors, including the type of food and the level of food-specific IgE antibodies a child has. Dairy, soy, egg, and wheat allergies can be outgrown before childhood while peanut, tree nut, sesame, fish, and shellfish allergies are usually not outgrown. Lastly, for some foods the higher the level of food-specific IgE antibodies a child has in their body, the less likely they are to outgrow their food allergy. 

Will my child have the same food allergies I have?

Food allergies are driven by both genetic and environmental factors, so your baby may not have the same allergies you do.