Top 10 allergy myths
Preventing food allergies in babies
3 April 2023
Food allergy is a subject which can, understandably, strike terror into any parent’s heart. The abundance of theories and conflicting advice out there only makes it worse. So what are the facts when it comes to allergies in babies and what can new parents do (if anything) to help prevent allergies developing?
Ternity Group’s Nourish Baby Health Writer, Jane Barry gives us the lowdown and breaks down the top 10 myths.
What is an allergy?
An allergy happens when a person’s immune system reacts to a particular substance (allergen). Allergens can be in the environment (such as dust mites, pollen or pets), foods and medicines. It’s important to remember than an allergy is very different to an intolerance or sensitivity and it’s not about food preferences or simply disliking the taste of something. An allergy is much more serious.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of an allergy usually include redness and swelling in one or more parts of the body. Sometimes an allergic reaction can be seen, other times it’s felt or heard. A person’s nose, throat, skin and lungs are usually the sites which are affected but everyone with an allergy responds differently. The degree of response also varies – the first time someone has an allergic reaction it may be mild and each time it happens again, the reaction can be worse than the previous times. This is because the person’s body has been primed or sensitised to respond, making the reaction quicker and more intense.
How common are allergies?
Very! In Australia and New Zealand one in 10 infants will have a food allergy and one in five people will develop allergies at some point in their life . If someone in your family has allergies or asthma, you’re more at risk of developing allergies. This increased tendency to develop allergies because of genetics is called ‘atopy’.
Top 10 myths
1. Restricting your diet during pregnancy will reduce the risk of your baby having allergies
Excluding particular foods won’t prevent allergies, in fact pregnant women need to eat a varied, healthy and balanced diet which is high in fibre, fruit and vegetables. Eating oily fish three times a week may help to prevent your baby developing eczema early on in life.
2. Solids must start at four months
The current guidelines are more relaxed than they used to be. Now the experts say that solid foods should be introduced at around six months but not before four months. The important thing is to look for signs that your baby is ready to eat solids. When they can sit up, swallow food (not push it out with their tongue) and are showing interest in what you’re eating are all signs.
It’s important is to offer foods which are rich in iron and zinc – meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains as well as dairy foods are all good choices. Some parents choose to offer only one new food at a time to their baby and there’s no harm in that – if there’s a reaction it can help to know if there’s a problem with a particular food.
3. Allergies are caused by too much cleaning
The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ is a common theory for the increase in allergies. And while it’s one of many complex reasons why we’re seeing many more allergies, it’s not the only reason.
4. Only babies with a family history develop allergies
Although genetics do seem to increase the risk it’s important not to assume your baby will have allergies because other people in the family do. Every baby is an individual and unless you have reason to think they have true allergies, it’s important to manage them as if they don’t. Babies have very sensitive skin which reacts easily to some foods so don’t assume your baby is allergic if their skin becomes red after contact with foods like tomatoes, fruit or vegemite. It’s also important to remember that babies from families with no family history can still develop allergies.
5. My baby is breastfeeding so they won’t develop allergies
Breastfeeding has lots of great benefits for both mum and baby, but it doesn’t prevent allergies from developing. While breastfeeding when solids are first introduced may be protective, the evidence around this is low.
6. If I give my baby soy or goat’s milk they’ll be more protected against allergies
Neither of these are safer options when it comes to preventing allergies. Cow’s milk formula is generally recommended for babies until 12 months of age who aren’t being breastfed.
7. Hypoallergenic formula protects against allergies
There’s no consistent evidence that this is true. Hypoallergenic or HA formulas are for babies who already have proven allergies to cow or soy milk.
8. If I take probiotics my baby won’t get allergies
When a pregnant or breastfeeding mother takes probiotics her baby gains some protection against developing eczema. However, the specific type and dose of probiotics isn’t clear with more research needed to fully understand the specifics about probiotics.
9. Eggs shouldn’t be given before 12 months of age
Cooked egg can actually be protective when it’s given to babies with a family history of allergy. The current recommendations are for it to be given before 8 months old where there’s a family history of allergy, which may help to reduce the risk of the baby developing the same.
10. Avoiding common allergic foods is protective against allergies
Cooked egg, nuts, wheat, fish, cow’s milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy and soy foods can be offered as part of a healthy diet (but cow’s milk alone doesn’t supply adequate nutrition for babies less than 12 months old). It’s not yet clear about the best timing for introducing each one but they should be included as part of a normal family diet.
If your baby has a food allergy or eczema you must speak with your GP, paediatrician or allergist about what’s right for your baby.
1. Common myths about allergy and asthma exposed - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)
Ternity Group supports Teachers Health members through the New Families Program.
Nourish Baby Health Writer Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 35 years specialist experience in child health nursing.