Introducing solid foods to infants too soon — before 3 to 4 months — is associated with a higher risk of developing food allergies, which affect about 6% of children under 3. But delaying the introduction of cereal past 6 months of age may also increase a child's risk of allergy to wheat, say researchers from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center and the University of Colorado in Denver, Colorado.
In this small study, the parents of 1,612 infants reported when they introduced certain grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats, into their child's diet. From birth to 4 years of age, the parents also noted whether a physician had diagnosed their child with allergies to foods such as:
- cow's milk
- dairy products
- infant formula
- peanuts/peanut butter/nuts
Parents also noted whether other family members had asthma, eczema, hives, or other conditions associated with allergy. In addition, children underwent periodic physical exams and blood testing to check for signs of allergy to wheat.
Overall, about 1% of children developed an allergy to wheat (children with celiac disease, a digestive disorder that's caused by a sensitivity to foods containing gluten, weren't included in this study). Researchers discovered that children who had their first taste of cereal after 6 months of age had more than four times the risk of developing wheat allergy compared with kids who were introduced to cereal prior to 6 months of age. Having a relative with an allergic condition also increased a child's risk of developing wheat allergy.
What This Means to You. According to the results of this small study, waiting until after 6 months of age to introduce cereal doesn't protect kids — in fact, it could increase their risk of developing an allergy to wheat. Symptoms of wheat allergy include skin swelling, hives, or itching; cramps, nausea, or vomiting; or wheezing and runny nose after eating or inhaling products made with wheat. Generally, doctors recommend that parents introduce cereals around 6 months of age. If you have any questions about when to introduce solid foods or if you think your child is showing signs of a food allergy, talk to your doctor.
Source: Jill A. Poole, MD; Kathy Barriga, MSPH; Donal Y. M. Leung, MD, PhD; Michelle Hoffman, RN; George S. Eisenbarth, MD, PhD; Marian Rewers, MD, PHD; Jill M. Norris, MPH, PhD; Pediatrics, June 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2006