Your pregnancy and baby guide

Food allergies in babies and young children

Exclusive breastfeeding or first infant formula is recommended for around the first 6 months of life.

If your baby has a cow's milk allergy and is not being breastfed, talk to your GP about what kind of formula to give your baby.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women don't need to avoid foods that can trigger allergic reactions (including peanuts), unless you're allergic to them.

If your baby already has an allergy such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or if you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay-fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing foods, so talk to your GP or health visitor first.

Introducing foods that could trigger allergy

When you start introducing solid foods to your baby from around 6 months old, introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time and in very small amounts so that you can spot any reaction.

These foods are:

  • cows' milk
  • eggs (eggs without a red lion stamp should not be eaten raw or lightly cooked)
  • foods that contain gluten, including wheat, barley and rye
  • nuts and peanuts (serve them crushed or ground)
  • seeds (serve them crushed or ground)
  • soya
  • shellfish (don't serve raw or lightly cooked)
  • fish

See more about foods to avoid giving babies and young children.

These foods can be introduced from around 6 months as part of your baby's diet, just like any other foods.

Once introduced and if tolerated, these foods should become part of your baby's usual diet to minimise the risk of allergy.

Evidence has shown that delaying the introduction of peanut and hen's eggs beyond 6 to 12 months may increase the risk of developing an allergy to these foods.

Lots of children outgrow their allergies to milk or eggs, but a peanut allergy is generally lifelong.

If your child has a food allergy, read food labels carefully.

Avoid foods if you are not sure whether they contain the food your child is allergic to.

How will I know if my child has a food allergy?

An allergic reaction can consist of 1 or more of the following:

  • diarrhoea or vomiting
  • a cough
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • itchy throat and tongue
  • itchy skin or rash
  • swollen lips and throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sore, red and itchy eyes

In a few cases, foods can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life-threatening. Get medical advice if you think your child is having an allergic reaction to a particular food.

Don't be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food, such as milk, because this could lead to your child not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who may refer you to a registered dietitian.

Food additives and children

Food contains additives for many reasons, such as to preserve it, to help make it safe to eat for longer, and to give colour or texture.

All food additives go through strict safety testing before they can be used. Food labelling must clearly show additives in the list of ingredients, including their name or "E" number and their function, such as "colour" or "preservative".

A few people have adverse reactions to some food additives, like sulphites, but reactions to ordinary foods, such as milk or soya, are much more common.

Read more about food colours and hyperactivity.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 24/07/2018
Next review due: 24/07/2021