5 Tips to reduce food allergy risk in your baby
Food allergies are very common with around 10% of infants and 8% of children up to the age of 5 years of age in Australia and New Zealand having a food allergy. With the rise in the food allergies over recent years it has led to more research into what could be causing this rise. Whilst research is still ongoing certain factors may help reduce the risk in your baby.
1. Include common allergen foods in your pregnancy and breastfeeding diet
Previously there has been some debate on including high allergen containing foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding however a large review found no increased risk of food allergies with early exposure. In fact it has been proposed that early introduction during pregnancy could actually help babies to develop a tolerance to these foods. One large prospective study that found women who consumed peanuts/tree nuts five times per week during the peri-pregnancy period had a significantly reduced risk of peanut/tree nut allergy in their infants, whilst another study found a higher milk intake was associated with a lower intake of cow’s milk allergy in infants. Both these studies however only found a reduced risk in women without history of allergies.
2. Include oily fish at least 2-3 times per week during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding
Omega 3 fatty acids which are found in oily fish have strong anti-inflammatory benefits and have been thought to potentially change the immune system of the foetus before allergic responses are developed, especially in those with a genetic predisposition. Several studies have shown a positive association between fish consumption in pregnancy and reduced allergy risk, especially eczema which is a risk factor for food allergies.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommend for pregnant and breastfeeding women to consume oily fish at least 2-3 times per week.
3. Ensure adequate vitamin D levels
Vitamin D deficiency both during pregnancy and your baby’s first year of life has been linked to an increased risk of allergic disease including food allergies and eczema. Unfortunately vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in Australia affecting over 30% of adults.
Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include lack of exposure to sun, dark skin, body mass index over 30 or any medical conditions which may affect vitamin D absorption such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or cystic fibrosis. If you are currently pregnant and have these risk factors it is important to ensure you get your vitamin D levels checked.
For new mums if you have been deficient during pregnancy there is also a higher risk your baby will be deficient. Babies who are exclusively breastfeed are also at greater risk of deficiency as breastmilk contains minimal vitamin D. The Royal Children’s Hospital guidelines currently recommend that all exclusively breastfed infants of mothers with Vitamin D deficiency, with at least one other risk factor should be given 400 IU daily for at least the first 12 months of life.
4. Optimise gut health during pregnancy and infancy
The maternal gut microbiome is also emerging as a potential protective factor for allergy prevention in infants. To optimise your gut health during pregnancy aim to including a good variety of prebiotic fibre rich foods such as oats, barley, cashews, pistachios, legumes, onion, garlic, peas, asparagus, sweetcorn, nectarine, grapefruit, watermelon, dried dates and figs.
Whilst there are no conclusive recommendations on probiotic supplementation there has been some promising results from trials which have shown reduced atopic eczema by almost 80% in infants at higher risk of allergic disease when Lactobacillus species, particularly Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG were commenced from 34-36 weeks of gestation and continued through the postpartum period until 3-6 months or age, or until weaned.
5. Appropriate timing of solids introduction including high allergen containing foods
One of the most crucial strategies for preventing food allergies in your baby is to introduce solids when your baby is ready, at around 6 months, but not before 4 months. Whilst introducing solids it is recommend to continue breastfeeding as this may also help reduce risk of allergy development. It is also important to ensure that common food allergens are not delayed and are introduced within the first 12 month of life, even if your baby is at high risk. This recommendation is supported by the LEAP study which showed that peanut allergy could be reduced by 81% in high risk infants by introducing peanut before 11 months of age.
If you would like more personalised support on preventing allergies in your baby or would like a tailored plan for starting your baby on solids please get in touch.