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What can I feed a baby who may be allergic to dairy products and wheat?
Q: My 10-month-old breastfed daughter breaks out in a rash after eating bananas, sweet potatoes and carrots. After running allergy tests, her doctor told us she could also be allergic to dairy, wheat and eggs. She gobbles up Cheerios® and pretzels, but is growing tired of them. What can I safely feed her? My husband has food allergies as well, and I have eczema, by the way.
A: Kelly, food allergies are common in young children. Since allergies are usually inherited, when both parents have allergic conditions including allergies, eczema or asthma, there’s a higher chance that their children will.

About 90 percent of childhood food allergies are caused by six foods: cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts (walnuts and almonds). If your daughter is in fact allergic to bananas, sweet potatoes and carrots, these are far more rare allergies. Signs of food allergies include skin rashes such as hives (red welts) and eczema (scaly patches), vomiting, diarrhea and nasal congestion. Rarely, a child might have a severe reaction called “anaphylaxis” with difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness.

It’s good that you’ve been breastfeeding your baby since this can help prevent or reduce allergies. Also, it’s good that you recognized your baby’s skin rash and took her to the doctor for an allergy evaluation. A complete evaluation should include a full history of your family’s allergies and your baby’s food history, as well as allergy tests, which may include skin tests and blood tests.

Once your baby has had the allergy evaluation, it’s crucial that your doctor work with you to set up a safe and nutritious diet for her. If your regular doctor isn’t an expert in food allergies and nutrition, get a referral to an allergist and/or nutritionist. Some important questions to ask are:
  • Other than breast milk, what type of milk or formula could you give your baby? If she’s at risk for dairy allergy, should you stay away from cow’s milk formula and give her soymilk or another special formula instead?

  • What grains can she eat? If she’s at risk for wheat allergy, Cheerios® and pretzels might not be the best choice. Grains that tend to be less allergenic are puffed rice, rice macaroni, rice crackers, oatmeal, barley and 100 percent rye bread and crackers.

  • What sources of protein should you give her? If she’s at risk for egg allergy, should you stay away from eggs and products made with eggs? Protein sources that tend to be less allergenic are black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, poultry, beef, pork and lamb.

  • What fruits and vegetables should she try? Those that are less allergenic than bananas, sweet potatoes and carrots include non-citrus fruits, apples, grapes – cut up to avoid choking–string beans, avocado and squash.

  • What is the recommended plan for trying new foods and observing whether your baby develops an allergic reaction?

  • Should you have an Epi-Pen (injectable epinephrine) on hand in case of an anaphylactic reaction?

Your goal over time should be to increase the variety of foods you feed your baby so that she has a balanced diet with adequate amounts of milk, protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. Remember that many children outgrow their food allergies by age 5 as their immune and digestive systems develop.

For more information on food allergies, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at www.foodallergy.org.