Identifying Food Sensitivities and Protecting Your Baby

by Charlie Fletcher May 02, 2022

baby with food on face

The idea of transitioning your baby to solid foods is equal parts exciting and daunting for just about every parent. On the one hand, it is fun to see your infant start to grow up and learn to participate in one of life’s biggest joys—sharing food. On the other hand, it can be nerve-wracking to think that your child may be intolerant or allergic to specific foods.

The last thing we want is for our baby to be in danger, so act with caution when introducing them to new foods. Take it one step at a time and understand the warning signs of a potential allergic reaction. To help you out, we have created this guide about the risks of food sensitivities and how you can know if your child has a food allergy.

The Basics of Food Sensitivities

To properly comprehend the signs and severity of different food sensitivities, you first need to understand that all reactions are not the same, especially when it comes to the difference between food allergies and food intolerance.

So, why are some of us allergic to certain foods?

The main purpose of our immune system is to protect our bodies against harmful germs. When our immune system protects our body against potential threats, it releases a hormone called histamine, which is meant to eliminate the issue. A food allergy is when our immune system essentially becomes confused and tries to fight off something that isn’t meant to be harmful, like a particular type of food. However, since food isn’t really posing a threat, the histamine instead leads to side effects like swelling and watery eyes.

Food allergies are more common than many people realize, effecting about 3% of infants, and the numbers often increase as children get older. The reaction caused by the allergies can be extra harmful to babies because their bodies and immune systems are not fully developed. Although many foods can create an allergic reaction, some of the more common culprits include

  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Shellfish

While some children have food allergies, others have a food intolerance, which is not a reaction of the immune system but instead what happens when a baby has difficulty digesting a particular meal. In this case, the baby may have a physical reaction or be unable to swallow the food, but it is most often not life-threatening as a food allergy can be.

Start With Caution

Since you usually will not know if your baby has a sensitivity until they actually eat the food in question, caution is necessary when you start this next stage of feeding. Once you are confident that your child is ready to start eating solid foods, usually between the ages of 4-6 months, you should start small by turning the food they’ll consume into mush, so it is easy to eat and swallow. You can buy it in that form at the grocery store or prepare it yourself.

Unless you have a family history of being allergic to certain foods, you should not assume that your baby will have a negative reaction to the common culprits. Instead, when feeding, just take it slow and don’t overdo it until you are comfortable. Typically, allergic reactions can start anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes after the food is eaten, so don’t feed them more until you are sure that they’re okay.

There are many reasons why caution is important during this first stage of eating solid foods. In addition to the risk of allergies, you also can get started introducing your baby new new flavors, textures, and experiences. You might also help prevent picky eating down the road.

Look for the Signs of Food Sensitivities

Once you feed your baby a new solid food, stop and pay close attention so you can immediately identify if they are having an allergic reaction. Allergies can create a wide range of symptoms, but the most common include

  • Breathing problems, including coughing and wheezing
  • Welts or hives
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Rash or flushed skin
  • Swelling of the face and tongue
  • Loss of consciousness

If you notice some of the more severe reactions, such as trouble breathing, vomiting, or extreme swelling of the mouth or tongue, then you should call 9-1-1 or bring your child to the emergency room. In the case of more moderate symptoms, like a small rash or hives, then you should take note of it and see your pediatrician as soon as possible.

There is a chance that you will not see any outward or physical reactions right away, but that doesn’t mean that your baby isn’t allergic or intolerant. A good way to tell if your baby is allergic is to inspect their stool and compare what you find to the Bristol stool chart. You can do that by looking at your child’s diaper and comparing the shape of their discharge to the images on the chart. If you notice any drastic changes or anything alarming, then you should contact your healthcare provider.

Take it slow, watch for the signs, and seek help if necessary. Otherwise, enjoy this awesome experience with your little bundle of joy.

Charlie Fletcher


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