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Baby Food Allergy and Intolerance

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Baby Food Allergy and Intolerance

What Is A Food Allergy?

  • When the immune system reacts to a particular food as though it is toxic
  • Specific proteins in food cause the reaction
  • A reaction can present within 2 minutes or up to two hours after eating, however sometimes there can be a delay of up to days
  • Reactions may include; skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhoea, facial swelling and occasionally, breathing difficulties
  • In Australia, around 1 in 10 infants have allergies to food.

Common Causes Of Food Allergies


  • The most common food allergy in infants
  • Likely to disappear overtime, particularly after 3 years
  • Usually occurs between 6 – 15 months of age
  • Egg white is more likely than egg yolk to cause allergies, however both can cause a reaction
  • Most reactions are mild and usually present through hives around the mouth or other parts of the body. However some, although extremely rare, can be life threatening
  • It is recommended that the whole family avoids eggs when a child under 2 years has an egg allergy.


  • The second most common allergy in children
  • Usually recognised in infancy, when exposed to peanut butter for the first time
  • Commonly causes an anaphylactic reaction, however most reactions are mild with hives forming around the mouth
  • Those who are highly sensitive only need to be exposed to a tiny amount for a reaction to occur
  • Peanuts can be difficult to avoid and can be found in unexpected foods, it’s important to always read food labels carefully.

Allergists suggest that all children who suffer serious reactions to peanuts and experience breathing difficulties should carry an EpiPen. An EpiPen is a device which injects a dose of adrenaline – reversing the severe allergic reaction. You should discuss this with your doctor and have an Anaphylaxis Action Plan in place.

Cow’s milk protein

  • It is believed that only 2% of children under two years of age are truly allergic to the protein in cow’s milk
  • Most children grow out of it by the time they go to school
  • Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, hives and swelling (especially around the mouth), and in severe cases anaphylaxis
  • Treatment involves the eliminating cow’s milk and its products from the diet and finding an appropriate formula , if formula fed.

If you have a family history of allergies or if your child shows any signs or symptoms listed above, you should seek medical advice from your healthcare professional.

Australian national guidelines recommend introducing a variety of solid foods at around 6 months of age, there is no evidence to support the delay of foods and allergen risks. For more information on introducing solids click here.

What Is A Food Intolerance?

  • A reaction to a certain substance in the food you’re eating, these are unlike food allergies as it’s not an immune response
  • Reactions are usually less severe, however still cause the sufferer a lot of discomfort
  • Usually has a delayed onset where symptoms can occur up to two days after exposure
  • Symptoms can include stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation, skin redness and dermatitis
  • Most commonly caused by dairy foods (lactose intolerance), tomatoes, citrus fruit and strawberries.

Lactose intolerance:

  • Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in dairy foods. It is broken down in the intestine by the enzyme ‘lactase’ to allow absorption into the body
  • If not enough lactase is produced then undigested lactose enters the large intestine
  • Most lactose intolerance is secondary to an episode of diarrhoea, usually caused by a bacterial infection or less commonly by the inability to break down lactose
  • Symptoms include diarrhoea and abdominal pain, distention, gurgling and flatulence
  • Treatment will depend on the cause and a healthcare professional will be able to determine this
  • Most cases last for a few weeks to a month as the body recovers and produces more lactase.

It is important to have any intolerance professionally diagnosed before changing your baby’s diet. Once you have a positive diagnosis, the lactose needs to be removed from the diet.

Providing both lactose free food and drink is important for your baby’s well-being, comfort and recovery. Seek professional advice before changing a breastfed baby’s feeding routine. For babies on formula, lactose free infant formulas are available; however seek professional advice before changing formulas.

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