Weaning a baby with a family history of allergy
It is thought that 1 in 4 people are affected by some form of an allergy, and about half of these are children. An allergy is different to an intolerance (the immune system is not involved in an intolerance), although the symptoms for both can be similar. See our advice on the differences between allergies and intolerances.
Some allergies (including food allergies) have a genetic link. This means that the risk of getting an allergy can be passed down through the family. The risk can be 20-40% higher if a parent or sibling already has an allergy; this can rise to 40-60% if both parents have an allergy.
Although this might sound scary it is important to remember that even with no family history of allergy a child can still have up to a 20% risk of developing one, but if there is a history of allergy in the family, should this change how you approach weaning your infant?
Allergies and Weaning
The advice regarding feeding from birth is the same for any infant regardless of family history. Ideally six months of exclusive breastfeeding with weaning starting no earlier than 17 weeks, as recommended by the Department of Health.
Breastfeeding may provide extra protection for your baby as it can pass on some of your own immunity as well as other important compounds which can help to develop healthy immune systems, and these may prevent allergies from developing.
When you start weaning it is wise to avoid foods which have a high allergy risk (such as egg, wheat, mustard, sesame, celery, fish and shellfish) until six months of age and after consultation with your GP. Delaying weaning beyond six months is not recommended as at this age your baby needs more nutrients than milk can provide on its own, such as iron.
Good ‘first foods’ include potatoes, starchy vegetables, rice and soft fruits as these all have a low risk of causing allergy. Have a look at the HiPP Organic stage 1 foods available.
Another good tip is to introduce each new food on its own (including all of the high allergy risk foods after 6 months of age), every other day so that you can watch carefully for signs of an allergy. Then if you see any symptoms you can be fairly sure which food has caused it, and should relieve any anxiety you may have about introducing new foods. Once each food has been accepted singly these can be mixed together.
If you think your child has an allergy
All of this advice is aimed at helping you feel better about weaning a child with a higher risk of allergy, and make spotting one easier. However it cannot prevent an allergy from occurring. If you think your child might have an allergy to a certain food then make a note of the symptoms and do not feed your child this food before speaking to a GP.