Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Katja Leccisi, MS, RDN, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Photo: Lynley Vickers
Allergies and babies’ safety when starting solids are amongst parents’ most common concerns. Katja answers your commonly asked questions in the third part in our Starting Solids series. This series explored the many aspects of feeding your baby, from tasting first foods through the first year.
Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
Part three: allergies and safety concerns
Answers to your questions about food allergies and food safety.
Starting to feed your baby foods can be exciting and fun, but there may also be some insecurities that come into play. Almost all the parents I see are at least a little worried about the safety aspect of feeding their baby, whether it has to do with hygiene, choking, or food allergies.
The following questions are those that I hear the most often, related to these topics. I hope that my answers will reassure you, and let you focus on the pleasure of watching your baby explore new foods.
Q: How will I know if my baby is gagging or if she’s choking?
A: Gagging is a reflex that pushes food away and out of the mouth.
Choking happens when the airway is blocked and the baby can’t breathe.
When a baby gags, her reflex will kick in quickly to make her retch, which will force the food to the front of her mouth.
If your baby starts choking, coughing often resolves it. But if your baby’s airway is blocked, she may stop making sounds and turn bluish. Intervention must be immediate.
Q: I’m interested in baby led weaning, but I’m worried about my baby choking. Is it safe?
A: Yes, if you follow commonsense guidelines.
Babies who are offered foods using the baby led weaning method don’t choke any more than others, and as they grow older, may even choke less. If your baby gets too eager about feeding herself, don’t be surprised if she gags and spits it all out. This is her natural protective reflex. Many parents are nervous about their baby choking before they start offering foods that have not been puréed. Be alert to the types and form of foods you offer to your baby and be heedful of choking hazards. The natural gagging reflex kicks in to prevent swallowing and choking if they put too much food into their mouth at once. Never leave a baby alone to eat unsupervised.
Q: What foods could be choking hazards?
A: Any food that is hard, small and round, or especially sticky.
Foods that are not considered safe for children less than four years old include:
- hard candies, including cough drops
- chewing gum
- peanuts or other nuts
- fish with bones
- hot dogs or sausages, unless they are cut up lengthwise or into small pieces
- grapes, unless cut up lengthwise or into small pieces
Q: How will I know if my baby is having an allergic reaction to a food?
A: Watch her closely and recognize the signs.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction that requires immediate attention can include:
- flushed face
- rash around the mouth
- swelling of the lips or eyes
If you suspect an allergic reaction, call your health care provider or emergency services immediately.
Q: To prevent allergies, should I avoid giving certain foods to my baby?
It used to be common practice to avoid giving babies potentially allergenic foods (such as eggs and peanuts) until they were at least one or two years old. However, research has shown that delaying these foods will not prevent allergies. In fact, there’s growing evidence that starting at about six months of age, letting your baby taste them may actually prevent allergies, especially if you’re still breastfeeding.
Q: What foods are most commonly the cause of allergic reactions?
A: Eight foods cause about 90% of allergies in children.
These foods are most likely to cause allergic reactions in children:
- cow’s milk
- tree nuts
Q: How should I introduce any of the potentially allergenic foods to my baby?
A: One at a time, with some delay.
Health Canada recommends introducing common food allergens one at a time. Give your baby a small amount and watch to see if there’s any reaction over the next two days.
After two days, you may introduce another new food. The reason for this delay is so that if your baby shows allergic symptoms, it will be easier to identify which food might have caused the reaction.
Q: Food allergies run in our family. Should I wait longer before I start feeding my baby?
There’s no good evidence that delaying the introduction of foods beyond the age of six months, even for families with allergies, will prevent the development of allergies in your baby. However, because food allergies can be potentially dangerous, know what to do in case your baby does have a reaction to any food.
Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about gluten intolerance. Can my baby eat wheat?
As with other potentially allergenic foods, there’s no reason to delay the introduction of wheat in your baby’s diet. When you offer wheat, just observe your baby for a few days before offering another new food.
Q: Are there foods I should not give to my baby?
A: Yes. Several raw or unpasteurized foods are not recommended for babies.
Because of the risk of food-borne illness, avoid giving your baby any of these foods:
- processed meats
- raw meat or poultry
- raw eggs
- raw fish
- unpasteurized (raw) milk and unpasteurized milk products
- unpasteurized juices
These questions and answers have been adapted from Katja’s upcoming book, Questions and Answers about Your Baby’s First Foods. Find out more at www.Leccisi.com.
Read more from Katja in What’s Cooking?: Eating Well during Pregnancy: Coping with Morning Sickness Nausea, Eating Well during Pregnancy: Weight Gain, Eating Well During Pregnancy: Iron Requirements, Food Themes in Children’s Books, How To Feed Your Kids / Cómo alimentar a tus hijos, Let Your Child Eat! / Lass dein Kind essen! My First LLL Meeting and a Cookie Recipe, Raising Healthy Eaters: Lessons Learned from Breastfeeding, Starting Solids: When? First Foods: how to start offering solids.