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Ask Dr. Sears: No-Allergy Feeding

Q. How can I prevent my newborn from developing food allergies?

A. You're smart to start planning now. Some babies are very susceptible to food allergies, and there are experts who feel that what you feed your infant can also affect his chances of developing them later in life.

Babies' intestines are immature in the early months. If you're breastfeeding and have a history of food allergies (or have other children who do), you'll want to limit your own intake of dairy products, eggs, and peanuts—all foods that typically incite early food sensitivity. (A mother's milk, by the way, is rich in proteins that may help reduce a child's risk of allergies.) If you're a mother who bottle-feeds—and has had food allergies—your best bet is to feed your infant a hypoallergenic formula, in which the allergenic proteins are already predigested.

Fortunately, this vulnerable time is short-lived. Around the 4-month mark, a baby's intestinal lining develops a "closure," meaning it's more selective about what it lets pass through. At this point, you can now safely introduce solids into your child's diet, but only the least allergenic ones, like rice and most fruits and veggies, in small amounts that are "friendly" to his maturing intestines. My suggestion is to start gradually: Try feeding your baby a couple of spoonfuls of cereal before you offer him a whole bowl.

Even if he does experience food allergies as a baby, the good news is that most kids generally outgrow them—usually by age 2. But if your child had reactions to certain foods as a baby, check with an allergist before you reintroduce any of them into his diet.