Can you please explain baby allergies to me? If my husband and I don't have any allergies, how could my baby get them?
Allergies are a body's way of protecting itself. When the body perceives something as potentially harmful, it musters up a strong defense by secreting antibodies and triggering an immune response. Symptoms can include rashes, runny nose, wheezing, and watery eyes. In extreme cases, the wheezing can turn into severe difficulty with breathing—along with an increase in heart rate—and can be life-threatening.
Other important allergy facts:
- An allergic response may not happen after the first exposure.
- Many people may confuse intolerance to food with a true allergy. If a food is ingested and the baby experiences bloating, gas, or loose stools, it may be intolerance to the food as opposed to a true allergy. Consult with your pediatrician to be sure.
- Babies who are in a family with history of allergies (sometimes referred to as atopic disease) or asthma are usually more prone to allergies. There are, however, children that can have some types of allergies with no family history.
Reducing Baby's Chances of Allergies
Allergies are certainly a hot topic for new parents and pediatricians. As an educator, I get asked questions frequently on what parents can do to lessen chances of developing them. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a study reversing some of its earlier recommendations on preventing or decreasing the incidence of allergy. In the past, the idea was to reduce a child's chance of developing an allergy by delaying the introduction of the common offenders (peanuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish) regardless of family history. So, many moms avoided many of these foods during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and when introducing solid foods to their babies.
However, the study released in January 2008 refuted earlier recommendations, stating:
At the present time, there is lack of evidence that maternal dietary restrictions during pregnancy play a significant role in the prevention of atopic disease in infants. Similarly, antigen avoidance during lactation does not prevent atopic disease, with the possible exception of atopic eczema, although more data are needed to substantiate this conclusion. (From PEDIATRICS, The Journal of the AAP, Vol. 121 No. 1 January 2008.)
Allergies and Breastfeeding
Also in 2008, the AAP put out a recommendation to new parents confirming that breastfeeding can help to protect a baby's immune system. The early breast milk, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies that can give the baby the boost she needs until her own immune system is fully functioning.
The important thing to note about allergies is not to try to figure them out on your own: Talk with your pediatrician and ask about consulting with an allergy specialist if your child is exhibiting unusual symptoms.