Your pregnancy and baby guide

Food allergies in babies

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there's a history of eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergies (known together as atopy) in the family.

If your baby has a family history of these conditions, breastfeeding them exclusively (breast milk only) for the first 6 months will help lower their risk. If you're not breastfeeding, ask your GP for advice about what type of formula to give your baby.

When you start introducing solids (weaning), introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time so that you can spot any reaction. These foods are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • wheat
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fish and shellfish

Don't introduce any of these foods before 6 months. After this, milk can be added to food when cooking, such as mashed potato or puddings – but don't give babies under 1 year old any cow's milk to drink.

Read more about when to give whole cow's milk to young children.

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

Children and peanut allergy

Your child has a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy if they already have an allergy (such as eczema or a diagnosed food allergy), or if there's a history of allergy in their immediate family (such as asthma, eczema or hay fever).

If this is the case, talk to your GP or health visitor before you give peanuts or food containing peanuts to your child for the first time.

If you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) while breastfeeding, you can do so, unless you're allergic to them or your healthcare professional advises you not to.

Avoid giving your child peanuts and foods containing peanuts before the age of 6 months. Foods containing peanuts include peanut butter, peanut (groundnut) oil and some snacks. Don't give whole peanuts or nuts to children under 5 years old because they could choke on them.

Read food labels carefully and avoid foods if you're not sure whether they contain peanuts.

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

An allergic reaction can consist of one 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 very 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 "colouring" or "preservative".

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

Read more about food colours and hyperactivity.

Processed foods are more likely to contain additives and high levels of salt, sugar and fat. Therefore, it's best to avoid eating too many of these foods.

Further information

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