Introducing solids can be tricky (and messy) enough for parents. It gets even more complicated (and, dare we say, scarier?) when you add potential allergens into the mix. The FDA has identified eight of the most common food allergens for parents to keep an eye on, but recent research has changed the way we approach when and how to introduce them to babies. That's why we're breaking down what you need to know and when you actually need to worry. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't really have to be scary at all.)
The Top Eight
The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish (such as cod, flounder, or bass), shellfish (like crab, lobster, and shrimp), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soy. Researchers estimate that 1 in 13 children (or roughly two in every classroom) will develop a food allergy in life, with the top eight allergens encompassing 90% of all food allergies. Fortunately, new research in the food allergy space is much more encouraging—and empowering to parents.
Recently, thoughts about when to introduce allergens started to change, moving from year three to before month six. And there is a growing body of evidence that foods such as peanuts, fish, and eggs should be introduced at an early age in an age-appropriate format. In the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study, early introduction of peanut was shown to have a 97% reduction in the chance an allergy will develop later in life in high-risk populations. That's because allergies develop in children—you're not born with an allergy.
What does this mean for my family?
While early introduction is a topic you may have heard whispered at your last playdate, it still comes with trepidation for some parents. Despite the new recommendations, many parents are still waiting to introduce potential allergens. Often, logistics are getting in the way—parents aren't sure where to get age-appropriate allergenic foods or how much to serve to their little ones. Until recently, parents were still waiting for a simpler way to begin early introduction.
Enter Inspired Start, a baby food company that produces pre-made pouches specifically designed to introduce allergens to babies from four months on. The pouches are sold in three options of packs, and each pouch introduces a single allergen so parents can monitor for potential reactions. To babies, though, it just tastes like their favorite organic fruit puree. With Inspired Start, parents can introduce many of the top eight allergens to their children just like they do other solid foods. The one exception is milk, which isn't recommended for babies until 12 months. Inspired Start has subbed in sesame, the ninth most common food allergen instead.
How it works
Inspired Start lets parents introduce potential allergens the same way they do any new food ingredient—one at a time. Each box contains two days' worth each of four allergens, so parents can serve their child peanuts for two days, then tree nuts for two days, and so on before moving to the next box. It's the same format pediatricians recommend for introducing any new food. Additionally, all pouches are made with certified organic fruits and non-GMO ingredients + one gram of the potential allergen. (The only exception is the tree nut pouch, which contains one gram each of almond, walnut, and cashew for three grams total).
While the pouches are designed for children four months and up, parents are encouraged to continue their children's exposure to potential allergens until they're ready for the solid version. The shrimp and cod purees are also great ways to serve proteins to older children (but don't worry, they just taste like fruit!).
Is it safe?
All of the Inspired Start pouches are manufactured in an FDA-registered facility that follows strict guidelines to ensure no ingredient cross-contamination. Each pouch is also clearly labeled with its allergenic ingredient—perfect for tired parents trying to quickly grab a pouch for hungry babies. Talk to your pediatrician if you or your child have eczema or you have a strong family history of food allergies, as this could mean your child has a higher risk of allergy development. Fortunately, research shows that the high-risk population should adopt early introduction more than anyone. Another recommendation is to serve a potential allergen to your child right before an already scheduled pediatrician appointment in case of a reaction.
Food allergy reactions at an early age are most commonly a mild skin reaction, such as a rash, hives, or an itchy mouth or ear canal. Click here for a full list of potential symptoms.
Introducing allergens can seem scary—but it doesn't have to be, mama! By combining informative research and baby foods that make it simple, you can feel empowered to trust your gut and tackle potential allergies one bite at a time.