In the past, doctors often recommended rice flakes as a first food for infants at four to six months of age. Infants tolerate cereal-based rice better. Oats and barley are other popular choices. However, we now know that there are a wide variety of foods that can be used as a first solid food for infants.
Although wheat sits on one of the top eight lists of food allergies, it tends to affect adults more than children. Pediatricians and allergists used to believe that delaying infants’ exposure to allergenic foods, including wheat, could help prevent allergies.
But current recommendations actually suggest the opposite, with some studies showing an increased risk of wheat allergy if grains are started after six months. “Delaying cereal exposure beyond six months increases the risk of wheat allergy rather than providing protection,” the researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics. . “In addition, these findings confirm the predictive role of family allergy history on food allergy outcomes in children. Our findings support the continuation of the current recommendation to introduce cereals first in infants 4 to 6 months of age.”
Recent research and policy recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics WHO support this finding, noting that allergen avoidance does not appear to protect infants from developing allergic reactions.
If you have a family history of allergies
Consult your health care provider about how to introduce solid foods to your baby. For children with a family history of allergies, the safest food is usually oats at six months of age.
Whether you have a history of allergies or not, be sure to watch for signs of an allergic reaction (hives, difficulty breathing or asthma symptoms, swelling of the mouth or throat, vomiting or diarrhea, and loss of consciousness) when eating wheat for the first time. Know how to respond and be prepared to call 911 immediately.
Celiac Allergy and Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which ingestion of gluten can cause damage to the small intestine. Celiac disease may appear in infancy and may occur when children first eat foods containing gluten. Symptoms vary greatly from infant to infant and may include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss and/or growth problems, rash, mouth ulcers, anemia, hyperventilation, irritability, and vomiting.
Wheat allergy occurs when the body produces antibodies against the proteins found in wheat. Gluten is a specific protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats. Some of the symptoms of wheat allergy and celiac disease are similar.
Some evidence suggests that introducing foods containing gluten too early (before four months) or too late may actually increase the risk of developing celiac disease. Those caring for infants can reduce the risk by feeding foods containing wheat or barley no earlier than four months and no later than six months. This is especially true for children who are already at risk for celiac disease.
If you notice that your baby has symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, slow growth and chronic stomach pain, contact your health care provider. If you have a family history of celiac disease, it’s important to get your baby checked out. First-degree relatives of people with celiac disease are at higher risk. If your infant has any of these symptoms, or if you suspect they may have celiac disease for another reason, contact your pediatrician immediately. But don’t remove gluten from your child’s diet before seeing your doctor, as this will invalidate the test for celiac disease.