How to Introduce a Baby to a Sibling’s Food Allergen

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One of the challenges of a food allergy is managing the allergy while allowing other members of the family to eat that food. This means the allergen is in the house, and the allergic child needs to be kept safe from its presence.

While it may seem better for everyone to avoid the food, medical professionals don’t normally recommend that people avoid foods when they don’t need to, since they could miss out on key nutrients. Plus, restrictions can reduce quality of life without it being necessary. One of the scenarios you may face is introducing your baby to a food their older sibling is allergic to.

The Case for Early Introduction of Allergens to Babies

In the case of infants, there’s an important reason to introduce a food even when a sibling is allergic. Research has made a strong case that regularly exposing a baby to peanuts from the age of four months to 11 months reduces the risk of the baby developing a peanut allergy by age five by as much as 70 to 80 percent.

The prevailing advice was to delay exposure, especially for high-risk babies. But research is supporting the idea that early exposure to various allergenic foods, including eggs, fish and peanuts, once the child is at an age for introducing solid foods could help protect against allergy. On the other hand, delay can actually contribute to the development of a food allergy.

More research is needed on this subject, but the Canadian Paediatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and European guidelines have all made statements against waiting to introduce foods once a child has reached an age of starting on solid foods, which is four to six months. As a precaution, you can visit an allergist and get a skin test before introducing new foods to your baby.

Tips for Safely Introducing the Allergen

Once you have decided to introduce the allergenic food to your baby, the next step is to take precautions so you don’t expose your other child to the allergen. This can be especially challenging when feeding a baby, because a baby can easily spread the allergen. Try these methods to make the process a safer one:

Step 1: Choose the eating location carefully.

Separate your children while your baby is consuming the allergen. It’s helpful to keep your baby in a high-chair, so you can keep the eating area more consolidated. If it’s difficult to keep your children apart or the older sibling has particular risk, such as risk from airborne exposure, you may want to have the sibling stay in a separate room or outside the house while you feed the baby. Alternatively, you could take the baby outside the home for eating that specific food.

Step 2: Clean the area.

Be careful to clean the eating area after feeding your baby, to minimize allergen exposure to the sibling. This includes cleaning the space in the home or car where the baby was fed and cleaning the baby’s skin as well. If possible, it can be helpful to give the baby a bath after they eat the allergen.

While it can be a challenge to introduce your baby to a food their sibling is allergic to, research supports that it’s important to expose your baby in order to minimize the risk of developing their own allergy. Hopefully, these steps will help make it easier for you to introduce your baby to new foods while keeping their sibling safe. Please feel free to share other tips you’ve tried yourself.