Did you know that around 20-30 percent of all children have allergies? One of the biggest contributing factors to this trend is the rise in pollution in industrial countries. The reason allergic reactions happen is because of the immune system: the immune system's job is to defend us against bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies. When it comes to allergies, the immune system throws up an excessive defensive response to substances that are in and of themselves harmless. These are called allergens and are typically made up of protein. The body produces an increased amount of antibodies, which create the allergic response. But it's possible to help prevent allergies in your child: proper nutrition during the first 3 years promotes the development of a strong immune system.
Genetics plays a role in whether children are more or less prone to develop allergies. If a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has an allergy, then the baby's risk of developing the allergy increases. The best way to identify a risk of allergies is to take a so-called family medical history, during which the pediatrician asks parents about the possibility of allergies. The information gained from this is then used to make an assessment of the baby's risk. You can use our checklist to get your own initial assessment! If both parents or a sibling have an allergy (e.g. hay fever or a food allergy), the risk of the child also getting the allergy is higher than normal. But even if this is the case for you, there's no need to worry, an increased risk of an allergy doesn't necessarily mean that your baby will actually develop the allergy. With a proper diet and other preventative measures, you can help reduce your child's risk.
If allergies exist in your family, there are some things you can do as early as during pregnancy to help reduce your baby's risk of developing an allergy. Firstly, you should eat a balanced and varied diet. You should eat everything that tastes good to you and should not avoid any types of food. What is good for you is also good for your baby. You can also reduce your baby's risk of allergies after they are born: Breast milk is the best defense against allergies. Breastfeeding during the first 6 months strengthens the baby's immune system and reduces the risk of allergies. If your baby is at increased risk, but you aren't breastfeeding exclusively, we recommend using hypoallergenic baby formula. Since the proteins in hypoallergenic baby formula are broken down and fewer allergens are at work, the risk of a reaction is much lower.
What is hypoallergenic formula?
Hypoallergenic formula contains hydrolyzed proteins, which means that the cow's milk proteins are broken down to a point that the body no longer responds with antibodies. If your baby is allergy-prone, then low-allergen hypoallergenic formula can help reduce the risk of allergies.
- Make sure you eat a balanced and nutritious diet during pregnancy. Eat fish at least once a week during the breastfeeding phase. You can even increase this to 2 to 3 times per week. The omega-3 fats contained in fish have an anti-inflammatory effect and also help strengthen the immune cells
- Breastfeeding exclusively during the first 6 months is the best defense for your baby!
- If you aren't breastfeeding, you can feed your baby hypoallergenic baby formula instead.
- Start introducing baby food by the start of month 5 at the earliest and the start of month 6 at the latest.
Allergies and intolerance — what's the difference?
Like many parents, you might not be sure if you child is suffering from an allergy or an intolerance — especially since the symptoms are very similar.
The difference: An allergy is when the body's immune system produces antibodies in response to a substance which in itself is harmless. However, this is not the case with intolerance. Intolerance involves the improper functioning of an enzyme or transport mechanism in the intestines. This can lead to problems such as stomach aches and flatulence. Your pediatrician can help you figure out if your child is suffering from allergies or intolerance.
Even if your baby has a predisposition to allergies, the timing and manner in which you should introduce baby food is the same as with children who are not at risk. When switching to new foods, you should be sure to keep your baby's diet varied. Feeding your baby a variety of healthy and nutritious weaning foods is the best thing you can do to help your baby develop a strong immune system and prevent the development of allergies. Let your baby try as many different foods as possible.
In order to find out which foods agree with your baby, and which don't, we recommend introducing ingredients for a particular meal one at a time at intervals of several days. Your pediatrician can also help you figure out which foods to avoid. Be sure to keep an eye out for allergic symptoms: The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction are eczemas, asthma, stomach aches, diarrhea and vomiting.
Talk to your pediatrician if you think your baby is having an allergic reaction to something. They will be able to tell you if your baby actually has an allergy and will also be able to answer any questions you have about nutrition.
If your baby is having an allergic reaction to certain foods, you must talk to your pediatrician. They will be able to advise you on what actions to take.
In addition, there are also some things you can do to eliminate risk factors that intensify allergies: Make sure you keep the amount of dust in your house to a minimum and allow enough air to enter the rooms of your home. Moist air and poor air circulation create a perfect environment for mold and mildew — and these promote allergies.
If your child is allergic to certain foods, you need to talk to your pediatrician to find out what you should do next.
Even if you have to remove foods from your baby's diet, you should continue to carefully broaden the range of foods your baby is exposed to — step by step. Be sure to keep an eye on how your baby reacts to each new ingredient.
By the way: It's not necessary to leave any foods off your baby's menu simply because you think they might potentially be problematic. As long as your baby isn't showing any signs of an allergic reaction, you can leave items such as milk, gluten and fish on the bill of fare. There is also no reason to delay the introduction of baby food. Ask your pediatrician if you are unsure — they can help you make the right food choices.