Monday, November 30, 2009
Food allergies on the rise in children
I heard some disturbing news this past weekend. Apparently 4% of children now suffer from food allergies. This may sound like a relatively insignificant number, but when you consider that over 10,000 hospitalizations occur yearly because of food allergies in children, and that approximately 100 deaths occur because of food-related anaphylaxis (mostly children), the significance factor rises up a few notches.
The big question, however, is why this is happening.
While there are many different ideas being tossed about, one of the proven theories has to do with feeding infants solid food when they are too young to properly digest it. Let's look at some of the reasons why you should not feed your baby solid food, even cereal, before he/she is four to six months old:
First of all, young infants have not physically developed enough to properly swallow solid food. In order to swallow, you must move the food in your mouth to the back. Young babies simply can't do this without gagging.
Secondly, they're not able to break down the solid foods properly which often results in GI distress.
The third reason why experts advise against feeding babies solid foods before they are four to six months old is because doing so can lead to food allergies.
Once it's time to introduce solid foods to your baby's diet, start off slow. One small spoonful of cereal (usually rice cereal fortified with iron, but check with your pediatrician) is enough for that first feeding. Within a few days you can start to increase the amount of cereal you give your child. Mix the cereal with breast milk, which is preferable, or formula.
Gradually introduce other foods to your baby, starting with pureed vegetables and fruits. Do not introduce new foods more frequently than every three or four days, so you can see if your little one has any allergies to the new foods. Generally, it's best to start him/her on new foods early in the day so if there is a bad reaction, you won't be comforting him/her at three a.m.
Hold off on introducing meats to your baby's diet until he/she is eight months old or so, due to the high protein content.
Food allergies can be a serious, lifelong problem and your children are counting on you to do what's best for them. So, the next time you get advice from someone to start giving your one- or two-month old cereal to help him/her sleep through the night, politely ignore their suggestion. A few months of sleepless nights now more than compensates for a lifetime of grieving the loss of a child who died from food-related anaphylaxis that may have been prevented had you only held off on feeding him/her solid foods too soon.
Keeping it healthy,
Photo courtesy of Bethany Schad