Digestion and the immune system: How delaying food introduction can prevent allergies + eczema in your child
Allergies are the 3rd most common chronic disease among children, and eczema is present in over 10% of kids. This epidemic of atopy, a person’s predisposition to developing allergic symptoms has caused health care practitioners to look beneath the skin for solutions for our children. Starting in infancy, parents can prevent the development of allergies and eczema in their child.
During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, mom’s should avoid foods that are highly allergenic (eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk), and any other foods that the mother is sensitive to. You can find out what foods you are sensitive to through Elimination and Challenge, or Serum Food Sensitivity Testing.
Health Canada now recommends that all mothers breastfeed exclusively (without any food or formula introduction) for the baby’s first six months.
The first feeding is even more important! Colostrum, produced by the mom within the first hour of giving birth is rich in IgA antibodies which confer the mother’s immunity to the child. Colostrum coats the infant’s digestive tract lining, making it less permeable to molecules that could cause an immune response.
Exposure to formula within the first few days of life can trigger sensitivity to cow’s milk or the ingredients in the formula. It is extremely important to avoid formula within the first 3 days after birth, and avoiding formula altogether is even better for your child’s immune system and long-term health.
Foods should not be introduced until your child is at least 6 months old, as they are highly susceptible to developing allergies before this time.
How will you know your child is ready for solids?
Signs you can look for include:
- Front teeth coming through
- Able to sit upright and hold head up with good control
- Interested in food and reaching for food
- Still hungry after 8-10 breastfeedings in one day
- No more tongue thrust reflex and is able to swallow foods
Between 6 and 9 months, the least allergenic fruits and vegetables can be introduced. Fruits should be cooked until the child is older than 12 months. Breastmilk should be the child’s only source of protein. Grains should be strictly avoided until at least 9 months because pancreatic enzymes required for starch digestion are not yet produced.
Between 9-12 months, more cooked fruits and vegetables can be introduced, as well as the least allergenic grains. Protien can be in the form of breastmilk, lentils and beans.
Foods such as yogurt, cheese, eggs, goat’s milk, citrus, fish, chicken, soy, strawberries and tomato should be avoided until 12-18 months of age. Wheat should be avoided until 18-24 months.
Highly allergenic foods such as cow’s milk, shellfish, peanuts and chocolate should not be introduced into the child’s diet until 2 years of age.
Other Factors for Digestive and Immune System Health
To promote gastrointestinal and immune health, supplementation may be recommended, especially if:
- Your child or their relative already has allergies or eczema
- Your child has a personal history of antibiotic use
- Your child suffers from frequent colds, infections, or chronic nasal congestion
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract that help with digestion, vitamin production, and ward off microbes that can invade the immune system and make you sick.
Omega 3 oils are anti-inflammatory in the digestive tract and modulate the immune system and its reactivity to allergens.
To find out more about supplementation and a food introduction schedule that is individualized for your child, book an appointment for a pediatric consult.