How To Prevent Allergies In Your Infant

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infantResearch, good advice and those strong instincts that kick in after a child is born often guide a mother's choices for what she feeds her baby, but experts say new parents still have much to learn about how the foods they give their kids can affect their health.

Infant nutrition can be complicated and local pediatrician Dr. Nessa Bayer said the vast majority of new moms feel confident about their knowledge on the subject, but there is still confusion as to how some foods can aid in allergy prevention and development and can decrease digestion discomfort.

"Over the last 15 years, the rate of 40 percent increase of allergies in new babies," Bayer explained.

Mother of two Michelle Hamer is well aware of the fact that allergies run in families and took proactive steps to prevent her kids from developing the reactions. She won't introduce nuts until age three, and egg whites and strawberries are off limits until age one.

Doctors also recommend not giving youngsters shellfish, including shrimp, until they're at least one.

"My husband has several allergies, so I was really concerned with giving foods to my children," she explained.

"I breast-fed both my children until they were six months and then I started to introduce other foods like cereals, vegetables, fruits."

Her efforts have paid off and so far there haven't been any signs of allergies.

Here's a look at how foods can affect these three infant health concerns:

ALLERGIES

  • Family history is the strongest predictor of whether a baby will develop allergies.  But 15 per cent of children with no family history also develop allergies.  Over the last fifteen years, the incidence of atopic disease (allergies) has increased among babies by 30 - 40%.
  • Eczema is the most common symptom of allergy in infants.  The more severe the eczema the more likely it is to be associated with food allergy.
  • Babies are susceptible to developing allergies during the first months of life.  Once a baby has developed an allergy, they are at greater risk to develop other allergies. This is referred to as the "allergic" or "atopic march".
  • Allergies can affect different systems in the body. Symptoms of allergic reactions include:  skin problems such as eczema, hives or rashes; respiratory symptoms such as congestion, wheezing or asthma; or, gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
  • Nutrition can play an important role in reducing the risk of developing allergies. Breastfeeding is the optimal method of feeding your baby and may help reduce the risk that a child will develop allergies.  For this reason and others Health Canada recommends mothers breastfeed their baby exclusively for six months.
  • Contrary to what nearly half of moms believe, not all infant formulas are created equally - especially when it comes to allergy prevention.  In reality, the type of infant formula chosen can make a difference in the potential for developing allergies. 
  • Young babies have an immature digestive system, especially during the first four months of their lives.  A formula with protein that is already partially broken down can help reduce their risk of developing allergies.
  • Most infant formulas are based on cow's milk protein. Cow's milk is a common allergen. 
  • Compared to whole cow's milk protein formulas, a 100% whey protein partially hydrolyzed formula, which has been partially broken down, may significantly reduce the risk of developing allergic symptoms. 
     

BABY DIGESTION

  • In the first six months of infancy, a baby's digestive system is especially sensitive. Breast milk proteins are the best tolerated at this age.
  • Cow's milk contains two types of proteins: whey and casein.  Whey:
    -remains liquid in the stomach while casein forms a solid curd, which results in less stomach distention
    -has less potential for reflux and spitting up
    -results in softer stools
  • If a formula-fed baby is experiencing digestive discomfort, consult your healthcare professional. It could be because large proteins, like those from cow's milk or soy, may not be tolerated by an immature digestive system.
  • Proteins that are partially hydrolyzed (broken down) are easier to digest by baby.
  • Half of moms believe that it may be best to switch to a lactose-free formula if a baby has digestive discomfort.  This is not true in fact extremely few babies are lactose intolerant.  Lactose is a nutrient that is found in breast milk and most routine formulas.  A whey-based formula, with partially hydrolyzed proteins, is usually better tolerated by the infant with digestive discomfort. 
  • It's common for all babies to spit up.  This is not necessarily indication of a problem.  If a mom is concerned, they should speak to their child's healthcare professional.
  • Spitting up is common in the first few months.  A number of strategies can help the infant digest rather than spit up: 
    -Proper positioning
    -Small frequent feeds
    -If not breastfeeding, choosing a formula that is easier to digest because it is made of 100% whey protein that is partially broken down which allows the stomach to empty more quickly and reduce the amount the babies spit up.

OTHER NUTRITION FACTS:

OMEGA 3 and OMEGA 6

DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (an omega-6 fatty acid) are:

  • Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid
  • ARA (arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 fatty acid
  • Naturally found in breast milk
  • Necessary for eye and brain development
  • Made by babies from the essential fatty acids found in all infant formulas
  • Fat in the form of fatty acids like DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (an omega-6 fatty acid) are important nutrition sources for infants.
  • If you are choosing a formula look for one that contains DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (an omega-6 fatty acid) at levels similar to those recommended by the World Health Organization.  Recommended amounts for DHA (omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (omega-6 fatty acid) are 0.33 per cent and 0.65 per cent accordingly.
  • Infant formulas with these LCPUFA -both DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (an omega-6 fatty acid) have been show to support visual and cognitive development through 39 months.
  • One study supports the long term benefits of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and ARA (an omega-6 fatty acid) like increased visual learning ability and better attention, which is one part of intelligence. Another study, for example, demonstrated superior problem solving ability and better decision-making skills in the short and long-term.


NUTRIENTS

  • Iron is critical for the healthy development of a baby including brain development.  A lack of iron can cause iron deficiency anemia- a serious condition, which can result in decreased attention span, developmental delays and impaired brain function. 
  • By six months of age, the iron stores that babies are born with become depleted and they require iron in their diet. A baby's iron needs are greatest between seven and 12 months of age. Iron fortified infant cereals and meat and meat alternatives can be introduced at this stage.
  • Babies who are not being breastfed or are partially breastfed should be fed cow's milk based iron fortified infant formulas until nine to 12 months of age.
  • There is no scientific data that shows any relationship between iron-fortified infant formulas and gastrointestinal problems of any kind.
  • Babies living in Northern latitudes, those with darker skin, those who are exclusively breastfed and those born to mothers who are vitamin D deficient, are more at risk for developing vitamin D deficiency rickets.
  • Health Canada recommends that breastfed infants receive 400 IU vitamin D in the form of a supplement. Babies who are formula-fed won't need a vitamin D supplement, since it's already added to infant formulas.
  • Vitamin D plays a role in the absorption of calcium and in healthy bone development. An inadequate intake can lead to rickets, or has been implicated in the development of chronic diseases.

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