Health experts are scrambling to find ways to prevent food allergies in children—and confusing parents along the way—as the number of cases skyrocket.
Now, officials, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), are doing a complete reversal on food recommendations for babies in a new approach to combat such allergies, NBC's Today show reports.
New guidelines say allergenic foods once thought of as no-no's for babies are now being encouraged for infants as young as 6 months old, according to the report that aired on Today.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says such foods include peanut butter, wheat, milk, eggs, fruits, nuts and shellfish—and they should be introduced slowly so babies can benefit from a healthy diet with a variety of foods.
Under the new guidelines, here is what's suggested for incorporating potential food allergens into meals for babies, especially those who are at risk for allergies:
- Start introducing high-allergenic foods at 6 months.
- Begin with easy foods: cereal, yellow/orange vegetables, fruits and green vegetables.
- Next, introduce such potential allergens as peanuts and dairy, one at a time. Move on to the next one if your baby has no reaction.
- Introduce one new food every three to five days as he or she shows interest in foods.
- If there's a reaction, consult a doctor. Be on the lookout for hives, rash, difficulty breathing or anaphylactic shock.
Previous AAP recommendations said that parents should not give milk to children until age 1, eggs until 2 and peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts and fish until 3. The AAP in 2008 noted that there was little evidence to support the benefits of these delays, but it did not say when or how to introduce these foods.
"There's no reason to delay those foods if they're not going to cause a problem," said pediatrician and AAP spokeswoman Alanna Levine, as quoted in the Today interview.
Levine also said that there are no prenatal tests available to detect allergies in babies. But, a good rule of thumb: If the baby has a first-degree relative (e.g., a parent) with an allergy, the higher the risk the baby faces of developing the same.
One possible reason behind the increase in food allergies is the "hygiene hypothesis," according to Levine, as quoted by the Today show. "We're living in such a cleaner world now, using more antibiotics, so the body is reacting to things that are harmless instead of things that are harmful."