May is food allergy awareness month so I’m focusing here on new, relevant information to parents everywhere. Food allergies unfortunately affect millions of children and rates of allergies continue to climb with a near-doubling of children affected since the previous generation. This cannot be explained by genetics alone—frankly, we live in a more susceptible world where food allergies are more common in part because of our modern environment and how we now eat and live. Many assume that food allergies are genetic, and although a family history increases a child’s risk, more often than not, when a child is diagnosed with a food allergy no one else in the family has one. In fact, 2 out of 3 children with a food allergy do NOT have a parent with one.
Thankfully, new research guides the way to reverse the growing number of children with food allergies. For the first time we know ways we can reduce risk and help protect children from developing allergies in the first place. There are actionable steps every parent can take that are guided by science. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and USDA now recommend introducing common allergens at around 4 to 6 months of age. By feeding these foods early in life, before an allergy has ever developed, parents have the opportunity to change the risk for their children and protect them.
The dietary guidelines are a perfect roadmap to help give parents easy, achievable ways to feed their baby the best way. More than ever, it’s important the guidelines specify to “make every bite count.” Commercially available baby food often does not have the essential food groups needed to ensure diet diversity and thriving tummies for your little ones as they grow. Parents need to make a plan to get these into a baby’s diet and keep it in a baby’s diet.
By introducing peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk products, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and shellfish, and fish (all found in SpoonfulONE) with other complementary foods, you can reduce your child’s risk of developing an allergy to that food. Furthermore, pediatricians agree there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy. In fact, delaying introduction can increase risk for babies.
So don’t wait and go slow, when you’re starting solids. Consider trying 100 new foods in 100 days! We want parents to feel empowered and confident about feeding their babies early. Keeping this diverse diet is key as this isn’t a one and done “test.” Once you have common allergens in your baby or toddler’s diet you need to keep feeding all those wonderful foods! Parents that feed their babies diverse foods and common allergens regularly (every day if possible, but at least several times per week) are doing it best. Consistency is key here.
We cannot change the modern environment quickly, but we can change the odds for our children. Let babies eat and enjoy the amazing milestones that feeding brings!
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Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician, mom to two boys, and the Chief Medical Officer at SpoonfulONE. SpoonfulONE is a line of nutritional products designed to help stop a food allergy before it starts.
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