Parents can help prevent food allergies by waiting to introduce certain foods into a child’s diet and by feeding a child breast milk exclusively until the sixth month of life, a group of allergists advises.
Avoiding milk and dairy products at this time can help infants at risk of food allergies, but there are no evidence-based guidelines on when other foods should be introduced and when children should begin eating solid food, Dr. Alessandro Fiocchi of the University of Milan Medical School in Italy and colleagues from the Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology write.
To fill the gap, Fiocchi and his team searched the existing scientific literature and developed a consensus statement. “Pediatricians and allergists should cautiously individualize the introduction of solids into the infants’ diet,” they write in the July issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Other than breast milk, no supplemental foods, including cow’s milk-based formulas, should be given until the child reaches six months of age, the researchers state. Introducing solid foods in a child’s first four months of life, they add, has been associated with an increased risk of allergies up to age 10.
Foods should also be introduced one at a time in small amounts, Fiocchi and his colleagues state, and children should not be given mixed foods unless it is clear they are not allergic to any of the components.
Once a child’s risk of allergy has been assessed based on family history, the researchers add, he or she can be introduced to dairy foods at 12 months and hen’s eggs at 24 months, while parents should wait until a child reaches at least 36 months before introducing peanuts, tree nuts (such as cashews and walnuts), fish and seafood.
SOURCE: Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, July 2006.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD