Premature Birth and Food Allergies

Susie McGee
Ward off food allergies.

The connection between premature birth and food allergies is a controversial one. Until recently, many scientists and physicians believed that premature babies had a proclivity towards food allergies. Today, other studies indicate different results.

What the Experts Say

According to new study reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), which is the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, premature infants do not have an increased risk of developing food allergies when compared to normal birth weight infants. The study indicated that no gestational age or birth weight group had a statistically significant or increased risk of food allergies. The researchers also suggested that prematurity should not be linked to a risk of the development of food allergies later in childhood.

The study went on to suggest that introducing highly allergenic foods, like peanuts, early in life might actually prevent allergies. This study is corroborated by a Canadian study which suggested that exposing premature and low birth weight babies to food allergens early in life could boost their tolerance for highly allergic foods later. The lead author, Joel Liem from the University of Manitoba, also states the following, "Our data suggests that no association exists between gestational age and birth weight with the development of IgE-mediated food allergies. As a result, the theory that an immature gut …predisposes the baby to early sensitization needs to be questioned."

Premature Babies and Food Allergies

Feeding your baby is one of the most important things you'll do for him or her, especially in those early months. While these studies indicate that there may not be a direct connection between premature birth and food allergies, there is no doubt that precautions must be taken to ensure that a preemie gets all the sustenance he or she needs to develop properly. Whether you are breastfeeding or feeding your baby formula, you and your doctor will need to monitor your baby's milk intake and development.

Food Allergies

Pediatricians now suggest introducing only one new food at a time over a period of several days. Once you're sure that your baby isn't allergic to a specific food, you can introduce a new one. Start out with simple foods before you move on to combination meals. Pediatricians typically suggest waiting until an infant reaches at least six months before starting him or her on solids. While people can develop allergies to almost any food, the following are some of the most common foods associated with allergies:

  • Nuts (especially peanuts)
  • Shellfish
  • Cow's milk
  • Soy
  • Egg whites
  • Wheat germ
  • Chocolate
  • Berries
  • Citrus
  • Tomatoes

Symptoms of Food Allergies

Occasionally, your baby may experience an intolerance of a food, which doesn't necessarily indicate an allergy. For example, your daughter may have eaten quite a bit of raisins before you notice that she has developed an angry diaper rash. The next time she eats raisins, limit her intake until you see how well she tolerates them.

There are many different signs that indicate your child may be suffering from an allergy or intolerance of a particular food. Some of these are more severe than others. They include the following:

  • Abnormal changes in behavior
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, etc.
  • Swelling of the face
  • Excess gas
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy mouth and throat
  • Rash
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic coughing
  • Night coughs
  • Circles under the eyes
  • Frequent colds
  • Frequent ear infections

If you think your baby may have an allergy, do not give him or her the suspected food and contact your pediatrician. If you aren't certain what might be causing the food allergy, talk with your doctor about how to determine which foods might be causing the reactions.

Premature Birth and Food Allergies