No need to delay introducing allergy-provoking foods to babies

Edmond Chan

Dr. Edmond Chan, Head, Division of Allergy & Immunology

Babies at risk of developing a food allergy can be exposed to potential allergens as early as six months of age according to a new position statement co-authored by CFRI Clinical Investigator Dr. Edmond Chan.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, healthcare providers often recommended that women avoid eating allergy-provoking foods such as peanuts, fish or eggs, while pregnant or breastfeeding and that new moms delay the introduction of these foods. This new statement, released by the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, lifts these restrictions.

“We’ve learned a lot more about how complicated the immune system is with respect to allergic responses and now the thought is that eating [potential allergens] early could expose immune cells in the gut in a beneficial way, while delaying could have the opposite effect and increase the risk of allergy,” Dr. Chan said in a CBC TV news story that aired on Monday, December 2, 2013. “We had good intentions about protection [with the old advice] but ironically we have generated a rise in food allergies.”

The statement from the CPS recommends that parents of high risk infants who are unsure of when and how to introduce these foods talk to their family doctor or pediatrician. Babies defined as being at high risk for a food allergy are those with a parent or sibling with an allergic condition such as a food allergy, asthma or atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema.

“It’s not a ‘should’ or ‘must’ type of statement,” said Dr. Chan. “It’s mainly stating that there is no benefit to delay.”

The statement is based on a review of current research into food allergies and guidelines from around the world.

Dr. Chan is the head of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at BC Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor with the UBC Department of Pediatrics.