When my daughter started solid foods, I found the process to be both incredibly exciting and a little nerve-wracking, especially with the rise in awareness of food allergies and intolerances. I couldn’t really anticipate whether she’d have an allergic reaction, but there were ways to prepare myself in case it happened. For starters, I breastfed, which may help prevent or delay the onset of food allergies, according to the World Health Organization. I also talked to our pediatrician about our family’s food allergy history. I was worried that my daughter would have an issue with gluten like I do, but I was comforted to learn that even though the most commonly allergenic foods—cows milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish—are ubiquitous in our diets, it’s thought that 80 to 90 percent of egg, milk, and wheat allergies will be outgrown, according to experts. Thankfully, she hasn’t had an issue with gluten or wheat so far, and her initial skin sensitivity to strawberries and tomatoes only lasted for a few months. So until you know whether your baby has food allergies or not, here’s what to watch out for during and after mealtime to help keep her safe.
1. Be on the lookout for rashes. Hives that resemble bug bits, rashes, eczema, or skin swelling after eating certain foods can be a sign of an intolerance, according to the American College of Allery, Asthma & Immunology. Experts there say that these reactions can vary from minor—some babies may develop red cheeks after eating acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus, which they may not even notice and will often outgrow—to painful cases of eczema that require eliminating certain foods.
2. Pay attention to her breathing. If your baby eats a food and immediately or soon after starts to sneeze, wheeze, or otherwise have difficulty breathing, she may be having a reaction to the food—or an additive in the food, according to the WAO. Experts there advise seeking medical attention immediately if the breathing problems are severe and be sure to follow up with your pediatrician so you know how to handle a repeat situation (which may require carrying an Epi Pen).
3. Take note of tummy troubles. Sometimes, the digestive systems of young children aren’t ready to process complex foods and they will let you know it, according to the WAO. So if your wee one throws up after trying cow’s milk for the first time, complains of nausea after tasting a new food, or has diarrhea that’s otherwise unrelated to illness, it’s worth considering whether a food could have caused it. It may be an intolerance, says WAO experts, which is often the case with lactose, rather than a true allergy, but it’s best to steer clear of these foods until you can discuss it with your pediatrician.
4. Watch out for severe signs of an allergic reaction, such as dizziness. Some food allergies are so severe that they can cause pale skin, light-headedness, and/or loss of consciousness. And while these cases are rare, you should call for help right away. With an older child, listen closely if he tells you that eating a certain food makes them feel dizzy or makes his head hurt as it could be a sign that he is intolerant and that food should be avoided.
5. Tune in to her behavior. With young children who aren’t yet verbal, how they act after a meal can help you know whether they are being negatively impacted by something they are eating, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say to for listlessness, hyperactivity, grabbing at their throat, or other unusual behavior. If a behavior regularly follows a specific food, additive, or artificial coloring, eliminate it until you can see your doctor to get her take on the situation.
The good news is that if you do identify a food allergy—and, according to the AAP, it’s estimated that 4 to 8 percent of children under age 2 have one—your pediatrician and a food allergist can help to test your child as they grow to see if they are outgrowing trigger foods.