Shifting babies from all-liquid diet is important; so is navigating potential food allergies

 

The transition from formula to solid food is a big step in infancy.

It not only provides nutrition, but also gives infants a valuable opportunity to learn about different tastes, odors and textures. These are important milestone for babies.

“Exposing babies to a variety of foods and textures early on in life can help establish healthy eating habits going forward,” says Carina Venter, PHD, RD, a research associate and dietician at Cincinnati Children's.

She works at our Cincinnati Center for Eosinophilic Disorders, which treats children with serious and often rare allergic reactions to foods.

Infants are susceptible to food allergies, too. Parents should avoid foods they know their babies are allergic to, but it’s also important to get your infant’s body accustomed to food and not avoid foods that are commonly allergenic but to which your child has not had a reaction.

Interestingly, the most common allergy-causing foods of childhood are milk, egg and peanuts. “The majority of children outgrow their milk and egg allergy by around 2-3 years of age,” Venter says. “Children are less likely to outgrow peanut allergy, but some do.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not be given chunks of peanut butter up to 4 years of age – we therefore recommend that peanut butter should be mixed with water into a smooth paste. We’ll have more about early introduction of peanut, milk, egg and other allergenic foods in our next blog at cincinnatichildrens.org.

In her research, Venter collaborates with Cincinnati Children’s colleague Kate Maslin, PhD, RD, and other dietetic researchers in the United Kingdom. Among the findings:

  • A child’s taste can be influenced by what the mother ate during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • The type of milk and food infants are fed early in life can affect food preferences later on.

One aspect of her research surprised Venter. “The first year of life is a critical period for food introduction. Food avoidance in the first year has a long-lasting effect,” she says. “Even 10 years later, children who were on a milk-restricted diet during that first year were less likely to vary their own diet even in the absence of medical restrictions.”

For babies who need special diets because of a known food allergy, it can be challenging to provide them with a wide array of foods. But it’s still important to encourage different textures and a broad palate. It will ensure a well-balanced diet and food acceptance in general — and especially if they should outgrow their allergies. Many babies do.

The key lesson for parents?

“Parents want their children to grow well,” Venter says. “We reassure them by measuring height and weight at regular intervals and monitoring their nutritional intake.”