Are babies born with food allergies? The short answer is no. But when and how do food allergies develop, and what steps can you take to introduce food allergens safely to your baby? Read on to find out.
How Food Allergies Develop
Babies are not born with food allergies. Rather, food allergies develop over time.
Food allergies result from a breakdown of tolerance to a given food, delayed development of that tolerance, or both.
When someone's tolerance to a food breaks down, or its development is delayed, their immune system begins to treat the protein of that food as a foreign invader to their body.
Our immune systems are meant to defend us from viruses and bacteria. But when someone develops a food allergy, their immune system over-defends the body in response to that food.
Most commonly, the immune system starts to develop antibodies known as food-specific IgE antibodies, to fight off the allergen.
What are Food-Specific IgE Antibodies?
Food-specific IgE antibodies are antibodies that detect, and defend the body against, a specific food that someone is allergic to.
For example, if someone is allergic to peanut, their immune system will produce specific IgE antibodies to defend against peanut protein.
These IgE antibodies help cells cause an allergic reaction whenever someone eats a food they are allergic to.
Food-specific IgE antibodies frequently start to develop in infancy---before a baby reaches their first birthday.
Factors that contribute to food allergy risk
All babies are at risk for developing food allergies, but certain genetic and environmental factors can increase your child's risk of developing a food allergy.
Some of these factors can't be changed, but some can be influenced.
- Eczema: Research shows that babies with eczema are at the highest risk of developing food allergies.
- Family history: if a baby has a sibling with a food allergy, their own food allergy risk increases slightly.
- Not enough vitamin D: Several studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency may result in increased allergy risk.
- Delayed allergen exposure: Waiting to introduce allergenic foods until after a baby's first birthday increases food allergy risk.
For more on these risk factors, be sure to read our article on food allergy risk.
Introducing allergens early
Since babies aren't born with food allergies, there are steps families can take to introduce them early:
Based on results from landmark clinical studies (LEAP, EAT, PETIT), scientists recognize that 4-11 months of age represents a critical immune window. During this time, babies' immune systems start to develop either a positive response (tolerance) or negative response to allergenic foods.
If a baby eats allergenic foods consistently between 4-11 months of age, they may be able to have a future with food freedom.
For the best chance at safely introducing allergens, you'll need to introduce baby to common allergenic foods (peanut, egg, milk) multiple times per week for at least several months.
Consistently introducing allergenic foods to your baby can be difficult, but Ready. Set. Food! makes allergen introduction easier for families.
- Our gentle, guided system introduces allergens in the exact amounts used in landmark clinical studies, is fully organic, and easily mixes with breastmilk, formula, or puree.
Learn more about how Ready. Set. Food! makes early allergen introduction easier for families.
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