Precipitating allergies via diet?

I have a question about my eight-month-old. My husband has a severe allergy to yeast and I have hay fever and asthma. Because of this I am planning to nurse until my son is at least a year old. I just learned, though, that introducing cow's milk or any other high-allergy type foods too soon could cause irreversible damage, namely allergies to those foods.

Well, not knowing this, when my son was about three months I gave him tiny bits of yogurt and ice cream. Not more than a teaspoonful, not more than two or three times. The last time I gave him ice cream, it had a little bit of chocolate in it. He broke out with a rash on his chin and neck that went away quickly. We thought it might have been the chocolate since he hadn't reacted to the ice cream before.

Do you think it could have been the milk and could I have already caused some irreversible damage? Other than those few times, he was exclusively breastfed until he was five and a half months and has not had any adverse reactions to any solids yet. We've gone through cereals, veggies and fruits and are soon to start meats.

Any ideas on this situation will be welcome.

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Babies whose parents have allergies to food or nonfood items are more prone to food allergies than other babies. If a baby is genetically programmed to have a food allergy, the younger the child is when the offending food is introduced the more severe the allergy is apt to be. Therefore, if you suspect your son may have food allergies, it is best to hold off until about a year or later before introducing potentially allergenic foods. In the case of your son, yeast would be a certain food you may want to hold off on.

Other foods that commonly cause allergies are soy, milk, citrus, nuts, fish and shellfish. These are less apt to be a problem based on your family history. You can try introducing them to your son and look for a reaction. If none occurs than you can gradually introduce them in his diet. If you do see a reaction, then discontinue that food for a while longer.

Some food allergies are outgrown as the child's immune system matures. Milk is a common allergen that 75 percent of allergic infants outgrow by the age of four. Early introduction of a food that causes a reaction will not cause irreversible damage. You just need to discontinue that food.

If you would like to include dairy as a part of your son's diet, I see no reason why you cannot try again. Begin with a few bites, look for a reaction and offer more if none occur. Milk will not precipitate an allergy if your child is not meant to have one.

The prevalence of information on food allergies gives the impression that they occur at a higher rate than they really do. If your child does have a food allergy, it is certainly an important issue, but I would hate to see the fear of an allergy cause the unnecessary elimination of nutritious foods from their diet.

Thank you for writing.

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