Early allergen introduction is crucial to reduce your baby’s food allergy risk, but what else can you do to prevent food allergies once you’ve already started early introduction? Here are 6 more ways to help prevent food allergies in your baby, backed by recent research.
Introducing your baby to allergy-causing foods, like peanut, egg, and milk, is the most important step you can take to reduce their risk of developing a food allergy in the future.
But many parents who have already started early allergen introduction wonder if there is anything else they can do to reduce their baby’s food allergy risk. Today, we’ll break down 6 other ways to help prevent food allergies, beyond introducing foods, that are backed by scientific research.
Don’t use skin products with common allergens on your baby’s skin.
According to the dual allergen exposure hypothesis, exposure to allergens on the skin may increase a baby’s food allergy risk, while eating allergy-causing foods reduces their food allergy risk.
This means that you should avoid applying creams, lotions and ointments that contain peanut, egg, and milk proteins on your child’s skin.
If your baby has eczema, it’s especially important to avoid skin contact with allergy-causing food proteins. Eczema babies have a compromised skin barrier, so it’s much easier for the proteins from allergy-causing foods to get through.
If your baby has eczema, regularly moisturize their skin.
Babies with eczema are at the highest risk for food allergies. If your baby’s eczema is well-controlled, though, this may help protect them from developing a food allergy.
One of the most important ways to keep baby eczema under control is to moisturize baby’s skin regularly. Moisturizing doesn’t just keep baby’s skin from drying out.
When you apply moisturizer, it also helps keep irritants and allergens from passing through the skin barrier. Since babies with eczema have a compromised skin barrier, it’s easier for allergy-causing foods to pass through (which may increase food allergy risk, according to the dual allergen exposure hypothesis). But consistent moisturizing seals the skin and helps reduce allergen exposure through the skin.
Here are the main steps to moisturize eczema babies’ skin:
- Bathe your baby daily in warm water. After the bath, pat your baby dry so moisture stays on the skin, and apply moisturizer within 3 minutes to seal in the moisture.
- In addition to the daily bath, apply moisturizer to baby’s skin as needed throughout the day. If baby’s skin is drying out, spritz it with water and use moisturizer to seal in the water.
- Learn more on bathing and moisturizing eczema babies’ skin.
Learn more about the food allergy and eczema connection from Board Certified Allergist Allison Ramsey, M.D.:
Expose your baby to dirt
You don’t have to keep your baby perfectly clean at all times. Some exposure to dirt is good for them—and may even help prevent food allergies, according to the hygiene hypothesis.
As the hygiene hypothesis explains, decreased exposure to dirt and certain germs may make it harder for baby’s immune system to tell the difference between “good” and “bad” germs. As a result, the immune system may start to overreact to even harmless substances, like food proteins. This may cause food allergies to develop.
But some healthy exposure to dirt will help train the immune system to defend against “bad” germs and leave “good” germs— and food proteins— be. So, take your baby outside and let them explore. Don’t worry if they get a little dirty!
Expose your baby to dogs, and other environmental factors
According to the hygiene hypothesis, exposure to diverse environments and surroundings can also help build up a baby’s immune system. For example, regular exposure to farm environments, or attendance at a daycare or playgroup, may help protect against food allergies because of the different particles in those environments.
In particular, though, owning a dog may help reduce your baby’s food allergy risk. Dogs expose babies to more particles from the environment—and owning a dog also gives families a reason to go outside frequently. As reported by the EAT study, living with dogs was associated with a 90% reduction in food allergy risk, and none of the babies who lived with two or more dogs developed a food allergy.
Expose baby to more vitamin D
Multiple studies suggest that vitamin D exposure may play a crucial role in protecting against food allergies, while vitamin D deficiency increases food allergy risk. Some of these studies show that children exposed to less sunlight (born during the winter months or living further from the equator) are more likely to develop food allergy, because they weren’t exposed to enough vitamin D. This is yet another reason to give your baby plenty of time outside—let them soak up the sun!
Sustain allergen exposure!
Feeding your baby allergy-causing foods just once or twice isn’t enough to prevent food allergies. Consistently feeding your baby foods like peanut, egg, and milk is just as important for prevention as exposing your baby early, as landmark studies have shown.
The LEAP, EAT, and PETIT studies exposed babies to allergy-causing foods 2-7 times per week for 3-6 months (or more). Babies who ate these foods early and often reduced their food allergy risk by up to 80%. But babies whose families weren’t able to sustain exposure for at least 3 months didn’t receive the same protection against food allergies.
So, be sure to feed baby foods like peanut, egg, and milk multiple times per week for several months!