Childhood Food Allergy Prevention Questions Answered! With Physician Assistant (and Mom!) Grace Chen
Physician assistant and mom Grace Chen answers your questions about childhood food allergy prevention and why she recommends Ready, Set, Food!
As a Physician Assistant (PA) and mom, why do you recommend Early and Sustained Allergen Introduction?
Multiple studies show that introducing food allergens (such as milk, peanut, egg) earlier results in a decreased risk of food allergy development. The longer you wait to introduce allergens, the higher the risk that your baby or child will have a food allergy. Sustaining the exposure is important as well -- repeated exposures to allergens over time help the body treat the food as "normal" rather than as something that is foreign and allergenic.
Why is it important to start at 4 months, as opposed to later?
Starting allergen introduction at 4 months will likely result in a lower risk of food allergy development. The current guidelines for introduction of solids vary from 4 to 6 months of age, depending on the source. I encourage parents to discuss this with their pediatrician.
What if the baby isn't showing interest in solids?
That is one of the many benefits of Ready, Set, Food! You can add it to a bottle of breast milk or formula, allowing you to introduce allergens even if your baby doesn't seem ready or interested in eating solids yet.
Are there any other aspects of Ready, Set, Food! that stand out?
Ready, Set, Food! is unique because the amounts of milk, peanut, and egg follow the amounts that were shown to be effective in the research studies. It's also great that it introduces one allergen at a time (which is the current recommended method of introducing foods/allergens) and gradually increases the dosage each day. Parents are so busy these days, but at the same time we still want the best health for our babies. Ready, Set, Food! makes allergen introduction easier and less time-consuming. Even once your baby is ready for solids, it can be hard to figure out ways to get them to eat those allergens and continue repeated exposure. For example, my daughter has never liked egg! She'll touch it and then spit it out without swallowing any. It's been that way since 6 months, and now she's 15 months old and still dislikes egg. Even if your baby will eat anything and everything, Ready, Set, Food! still makes parents' lives a little less complicated because all you have to do is mix 1 packet per day into a bottle or food (such as oatmeal or a puree).
How long are you telling parents to continue exposure for?
It's best to expose infants to these allergenic foods multiple times per week for several months -- or until your baby is eating these foods on a regular basis. The landmark studies on infant allergy prevention continued the allergen exposure for 3-6 months or longer, 2-7 times per week.
As a parent who did early allergen introduction, is there any other advice you'd like to give other parents?
Parents may wonder whether all of this allergen exposure effort is really necessary. After all, you may have no one in your family with food allergies -- so why should this apply to your child? Unfortunately, more than 50% of children with food allergy have absolutely no family history of it. If your baby has eczema, the risk of food allergies is higher, so it's even more important to try and prevent allergies from developing. In babies with severe eczema, allergy testing is recommended before introducing food allergens.
It may feel scary to introduce food allergens -- I was anxious about doing so, too! But whether you use Ready, Set, Food! (which is all organic and has no added sugars or preservatives) or do your own allergen introduction method, the key is to do it early and often. Even if your baby is already older than 6 months, it's still not too late to start.
Learn more about how Ready, Set, Food! works and why 300+ pediatricians and allergists recommend our allergist-mom developed approach to their patients.
About Grace Chen: Grace Chen is a PA (physician assistant) who works in emergency medicine. She has a Master's in Genetics from Stanford University and a Master Physician Assistant degree from Samuel Merritt University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, snowboarding, Zumba, and spending time with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.