Introducing baby to allergens
October 24, 2020 11:14 PM   Subscribe

As we get close to introducing baby to solids, I need to make some decisions about whether or not to introduce certain potential allergens.

My partner and I avoid buying and eating animal products. Sometimes we slip up, but it's getting more and more rare that this happens.

We'll be introducing our little one to solids soon. There's no significant family history of allergies, but we do have one extended family member with a few.

I'm finding it really difficult to decide whether we should introduce allergens that we don't usually eat (eg. Eggs, dairy, shellfish, fish)

Here is my understanding:
* Allergens should be introduced quite early on (like, you want to introduce it closer to the six month mark than the one year mark)

* If introducing an allergen, any reaction wouldn't necessarily happen at the first exposure.

* It would be better to introduce a food and keep feeding it to baby, rather than introduce an allergenic food once or twice and then never feed it again as that could prime baby for a reaction if exposed in the future.

* Being breastfed appears to possibly help with tolerating the allergenic foods

My main concern is that my child could have an allergy to something very common like eggs or dairy and might be exposed to a food containing those things (at daycare, for example). I wonder whether it could make sense to introduce eggs and dairy and continue feeding them to the child until he's older. Not sure about fish, as I feel it's less likely that he would accidentally be exposed to that compared to someone giving him a cookie or cupcake.

Am also wondering whether it would be a good idea for me to eat some of what I feed him due to the breastfeeding thing.

I've done a bit of reading on the topic but am, quite frankly, overwhelmed by it all. Any advice, experience or links to articles would be appreciated!
posted by kinddieserzeit to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also: our GP is unfortunately not helpful about a lot of things, so I can't really turn to them for advice
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:15 PM on October 24, 2020

Yes, allergens introduced early upon starting solids is proven to reduce allergies later in life. Don’t have the studies in front of me but it’s fairly clear-cut.

As for the more personal question on whether you should feed them something you don’t eat yourself, my personal take on this is that yes, 100% definitely. Eggs, wheat, peanut, sesame, gluten, shellfish, fish, everything. Your child might turn out fine and not develop allergies, but I would want to give my child the most options as possible so that they can decide for themselves later in life. I think it’s rather cruel to limit them now especially with something you can partially control. What if they wanted to travel in Thailand? How are they going to eat if they can’t have fish sauce, etc.

I think you yourself do not have to eat the allergens, but definitely feed it to your child.
posted by moiraine at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2020 [20 favorites]

There's two questions here. Should (and when and how often) you expose your kid to common allergens, and should your kid follow your dietary restrictions.

The current evidence-based answer to the first question is mostly covered in (standard Metafilter recommendation) Expecting Better by Emily Oster. tl;dr is ideally yes, you should make a point of exposing them to allergens, and early (as you say). The evidence is pretty cut and dry for peanuts. I don't remember it being so clear for dairy or eggs, but don't trust me. I don't think it covers when to stop doing this (if you're feeding the kid something you'd rather not continue to do). But nevertheless, take a look at what it says.

As for the second question, I have ethically-based dietary restrictions myself. My partner does not. We decided that the benefit of early exposure to fish, eggs and dairy (along with other common allergens that are less ethically fraught), made it worth pushing the boundaries of my own ethical preferences. I'm generally of the view that we should try to avoid closing doors for our kids, so they can make decisions when they're old enough. Helping them avoid allergies (or at least knowing about their allergies) so they can enjoy whatever food they're interested in when they're older, is part of that. Your mileage may vary!
posted by caek at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add: what I've read so far suggests that there's definitely evidence for introducing peanuts and eggs early, but I'm not sure whether this applies to the others. I wouldn't want to introduce fish or shellfish and, therefore need to continue feeding those foods, if there's not actually good evidence to do so.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 1:12 AM on October 25, 2020

I'm not a user of them so I can't recommend a brand, but there are allergin mix-in powders and I believe some brands include fish or shellfish somehow? I might be worth investigating if you are very against cooking and want to introduce.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:37 AM on October 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is medical advice, although I am not your doctor. Infants who are not exposed to animal products are at high risk of B12 deficiency and, because B12 maintains neurons, may suffer permanent brain damage. (B12 is only found in animal-derived protein.) B12 deficiency is no picnic in adults either, but it's critical for infants because they aren't done myelinating yet.

You can mitigate this if the breastfeeding person takes a supplement, but once baby goes on solids, they either need to consume animal-derived protein or take their own supplements.

This is technically a separate issue from the allergen one, it's another point in the "give kiddo dairy and eggs" column.
posted by basalganglia at 4:07 AM on October 25, 2020 [28 favorites]

I would definitely do eggs - I’m mildly allergic to eggs and I had to have the rabies shots which were in a medium that includes egg at a time I had been eating vegan for 7 years. I made it through the process but it was very high wire for me as rabies absolutely kills you, but my reaction to each shot was getting worse. It was one factor when I went back to eating more omnivorously. I myself would probably also do dairy. If you decide to do fish or shellfish, you can include something like fish sauce or dried shrimp in soup or something like a turnip cake (Lo Bak Go) so you’re not introducing the textures, etc.

At 6 months I think I would go straight to feeding the baby anything you decide to (slowly), so that you don’t have to consume things you are not okay with. That seems more violating.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:03 AM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

The other factor associated with higher risk is eczema in infants, so if your baby has that I’d make it more of a priority. But also there are only so many things you can keep in mind while feeding a baby before the stress makes you miserable, and only so many things you can control, and I haven’t heard specifically of studies with fish or shellfish - trying to make sure you’re feeding them 8+ things on a regular basis seems exhausting, and it may lower the risk but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

On the other hand, I’ll throw in a suggestion from personal experience to expose them to sesame, especially if you’re eating hummus regularly anyway. It’s easy to feed a baby a little hummus, and it’s the most common food allergy that DOESN’T require labeling in the US, so it’s a pain to avoid.
posted by songs about trains at 6:49 AM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I recently heard the comedian Jason Mantzoukas talk about his egg allergy, and how much it fucked him up to walk around as a kid policing all the parents around him so that they didn't unintentionally serve him eggs and possibly kill him.

Is there a way you can serve some of these foods that is more in line with your ethics? For example backyard chickens are very common in my area and I can usually get a half dozen eggs from a co-worker for a reasonable amount of money. A half dozen eggs will easily last you two weeks if you give an egg for lunch every other day. I know this isn't perfectly ethical but it may be more tolerable than factory farmed chicken.
posted by muddgirl at 9:02 AM on October 25, 2020

I will say on the other hand when we introduced solids we realized it was practically and energy-wise impossible for us to serve all 8+ allergens 3-4 times per week. We do the best we can and that's enough.
posted by muddgirl at 9:05 AM on October 25, 2020

There are products that contain most major allergens, designed specifically for this purpose. This would reduce the amount of animal products you need to buy? I have not used these myself, worth investigating.

Anecdata is not data, but I have some relations who strictly followed the old fashioned guidelines, and then some - they didn't expose their kids to allergens until they were two. Those three kids have severe fish, egg, peanut, soy and tree nut allergies and it's been a real burden in their lives.
posted by stray at 10:18 AM on October 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

This article just came out and is pretty relevant!

The full article says that: (1) there is definite evidence that early peanut and egg exposure is beneficial; (2) milk, wheat, sesame, and fish have been studied and the overall results have been inconclusive but show that early introduction at least doesn’t hurt; and (3) tree nuts, soy, and shellfish have not been studied. So that’s the order they recommend prioritizing, unless there’s a specific family history being considered.
posted by songs about trains at 4:38 AM on October 28, 2020

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