Your baby is seven months old. You have introduced her to solid foods, and she is healthy and happy, sitting up, and about to start crawling. Should you feed her a little scrambled egg? A few years ago the answer would have been, "No." But today, the answer is, "Yes."
Basic foods like rice or oat cereal, fruits, and vegetables should be introduced when babies are between four and six months of age, according to the new guidelines.
The best way to prevent food allergies, according to a new report by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI) is to expose babies to more foods early, rather than delaying them. The recommendations, based on several studies and expert opinions, are a complete reversal of the guidelines of a decade ago.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines in 2000 recommending that infants not consume milk until they were one year old, eggs until age two, and peanuts, tree nuts, fish, or shellfish until their third birthdays. The lack of evidence that delaying those foods prevented eczema and food allergies, however, meant that in 2008 those guidelines were changed.
Left unclear was when and how to begin giving those foods to young children. As a result, many parents were confused about how to protect their children and remained cautious. Mothers-to-be cut certain foods out of their diets and left them out as they began nursing.
The report offers a review of a number of studies, including one which showed that small amounts of cow’s milk in foods like baked goods, cheese, or yogurt appear to be safe to feed infants before the age of one. But this should not be interpreted as permission to replace formula or breast milk with cow’s milk. That should be avoided until after the first birthday for reasons unrelated to food allergy.
Feeding an infant fish before the age of nine months reduced the risk of eczema at one year of age.
Infants who ate eggs at four to six months appeared to have a lower risk of egg allergy than infants who first ate eggs later in life. And according to yet another study, children whose parents avoided feeding them peanut butter had a ten-fold higher rate of peanut allergy than those whose parents offered it.
It should be noted, however, that both peanuts and peanut butter are choking hazards in infants and young children, and a child who has a sibling with peanut allergy should be tested before eating peanuts because they are seven times more likely to have a peanut allergy. Lastly, a study found that feeding an infant fish before the age of nine months reduced the risk of eczema at one year of age.
The report was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.