Baby Allergies

As parents we all like to think that our little one is perfect but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Babies are prone to disease and illness which also includes allergies.

A baby is more likely to develop an allergy if there is a history of this within their family.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an overreaction by the body's immune system to an allergen (substance) which causes it to release antibodies and other chemicals such as histamine. These cause a variety of symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing.

Allergy family history

Take a moment to think about your family history? Do you or anyone in your family have an allergy such as eczema, hay fever or a food allergy? If you do then there is a chance that your little one will have inherited this allergy.

This risk is greater if both of you have an allergy. It is less so if just one of you is affected but increases steeply if both of you are affected in this way.

A note to parents: it is better for a new mum to breastfeed her baby if there is a risk of an allergy such as eczema as doing so will protect baby against this and many other conditions. Plus it appears to be better for their health in the long term.

Breastfeeding also protects the mother against osteoporosis (brittle bones) and ovarian cancer and lowers the risk of breast cancer.

So breast is best.

Do this for the first 6 months after your baby has been born but if you are not sure or don't breastfeed then ask your health visitor or GP for advice.

Foods which cause allergies

There are foods which are called 'known allergens' in that they are the most likely cause of an allergy. These include peanuts, strawberries, wheat, milk and shellfish.

Your little one will not be eating these foods at this stage in their development but this is likely to be the case once you start him/her on solids. It is a good idea to introduce your baby to these foods to see if they react or not to them but do NOT do this before the age of 6 months.

There is a risk of your baby having a severe allergic reaction if you do. If you are wary about trying any of the foods mentioned above then ask your GP for advice.

Symptoms of a food allergy

How do you know if your baby is allergic to a particular food, for example peanuts?

Seek urgent medical attention if your baby displays any of the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing or difficulty in breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen lips and/or throat
  • Red, sore, itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Skin rash
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Itchy throat or tongue
  • Coughing

Many babies and children grow out of their allergy but there are a few cases where it can be potentially life threatening. If you are concerned or want to know more about food allergies then speak to your GP or health visitor.

The most common allergies in babies are:

  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Eggs

If you think that your baby is allergic to milk then ask for advice rather than stopping his/her milk intake altogether. The problem with doing this is that milk contains essential nutrients which are vital for your baby's health.

A food allergy or food intolerance?

Be aware that your baby may have a food intolerance instead of a food allergy.

What is the difference?

The big difference is that a food intolerance does not involve the immune system. It occurs if a baby has problems with digesting certain foods or liquids such as milk.

Milk is the most common food intolerance and causes symptoms such as tummy ache, bloating, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The confusion arises because the symptoms of a food intolerance are similar to those associated with an allergy.

Your GP will be able to diagnose a food intolerance in your baby.