Food Allergies in Babies: Every Parent’s Guide

Written by Taylor Cossairt , medically checked by Natalia Stasenko

Our immune systems protect us from intruders like viruses, foreign bodies, and bacteria. So when your baby’s body senses an intruder, their immune system sends out antibodies to fight it off.

But sometimes, immune systems get mixed up and attack something that’s not actually bad. This is an allergic response, and it can trigger a wide range of physical reactions. And in the case of a food allergy, your baby's immune system activates when they ingest a particular food.

While only 3-6% of children have a food allergy, the symptoms are confusing at best, and scary at worst. This guide covers everything you want to know about baby food allergies. Get ready to familiarize yourself with common symptoms, treatments, and more.


Remember: Never hesitate to consult with a medical professional. Always seek emergency care if needed.

Most Common Foods Causing Allergies in Babies

Although it is possible to develop an allergic reaction to virtually any food, only a small handful of culprits cause roughly 90% of all food allergies. Milk, peanuts and eggs are the most common food allergens in children specifically. If your child suffers from allergies, here is the list of possible triggers:


Food Allergy VS Food Intolerance

If your baby has an adverse reaction after eating a certain food, they could have an allergy. But they could also have an intolerance.

If your baby has a food intolerance, they may get an upset stomach or a rash after they eat a certain food. This is because they may be struggling to digest it, like, for example, lacking the enzyme in the case of lactose intolerance.

Examples of food intolerances include:

  • Lactose intolerance
  • Histamine intolerance

Food allergy and food intolerance two conditions may sometimes share a similar set of symptoms, so telling them apart can be confusing. Make sure to talk to the doctor when you suspect that your child has a food allergy or intolerance.

So here’s a quick breakdown of the main differences between these two:

Food Allergy Symptoms

  • Immune system response
  • Several types of symptoms, including digestive, skin and more severe anaphylactic symptoms such as loss consciousness and breathing problems
  • Can be severe or life-threatening
  • Reaction can be immediate or delayed

Food Intolerance Symptoms

  • No immune system response
  • Usually digestive symptoms (bloating, diarrhea, constipation), skin symptoms (rash, eczema) or runny nose, headaches.
  • Is not severe or life-threatening
  • Often delayed reaction, up to a few days


Remember: If your child has any of the above mentioned symptoms, don’t try to figure it out yourself - call a doctor.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an immune response reaction in the small intestine. It's also known as gluten sensitivity. And when someone with celiac disease ingests gluten, their small intestine becomes inflamed. Over time, this can lead to serious damage. Gluten is a type of protein found in foods like:

  • Wheat, barley, and rye
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Processed meats
  • Sauces and salad dressings
  • And more

Gluten is tricky because it’s everywhere. It’s even hidden in medications, toothpaste, and vitamins. And although celiac disease isn’t an allergy or intolerance, it has similar symptoms. Signs your child may have celiac disease include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)

Most children with celiac disease experience digestive symptoms after ingesting gluten. But over time, these digestive issues lead to malabsorption of nutrients. This is serious because it can cause:

  • Tooth enamel damage
  • Anemia
  • Delayed puberty
  • “Failure to thrive”
  • Neurological conditions like seizures

Talk with your doctor about your child’s symptoms. If they’re diagnosed with celiac disease, it is manageable. Most people living with celiac disease do so through diet and food label monitoring.

Common Signs and Symptoms of a Food Allergy

When a child is exposed to a food they are allergic to, their immune system attacks the “intruder” and in this case, it’s the food they’ve eaten. This internal attack response manifests as a collection of symptoms. Or, signs that your child is allergic to something they ate.

Most food allergies in children trigger mere seconds or minutes after ingestion.

Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, or in some RARE cases, life-threatening. Here are the most common signs and symptoms to help you identify the type of your child’s allergic reaction:

Signs of an immediate type of allergic reactions (Link to the source):

Mild/moderate (usually within 30 minutes after eating the food):

  • Swollen lips, face or eyes
  • Itchy skin rashes
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting

Severe symptoms (anaphylaxis):

  • Swollen tongue, persistent cough, hoarse cry
  • Difficult or noisy breathing, wheezing
  • APale or floppy, unresponsive/unconscious

Signs of a delayed type food allergy, usually occurring hours after eating the food (Link to the source):

  • Digestive symptoms: abdominal pain, worsening vomiting, reflux, food refusal or aversion, constipation or diarrhea
  • Skin symptoms: skin reddening or itch, worsening eczema
  • No anaphylactic symptoms

Signs of an immediate type of allergic reactions (Link to the source):

FPIES - a type of delayed food allergy

FPIES or Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome is a delayed type of a food allergy that can be severe and life threatening. With FPIES, babies react to cow’s milk products, including formula, as well as oats, rice, soy, barley and, less often, bananas, peas, sweet potatoes, beef and chicken.

If a baby has FPIES, they will most likely react to the food in 1-6 hours after eating it, by profuse vomiting and, sometimes, diarrhea. FPIES can also occur in exclusively breastfed infants, but it’s extremely rare. Make sure to contact your doctor if you suspect that your baby has FPIES and keep in mind that it is usually outgrown by 3 years of age.


Note: Even if the reaction was mild, it’s essential to talk to the doctor. In case of anaphylaxis, call 911.

When to Call 911 For Baby Food Allergies

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction with sudden onset. Call 911 immediately if you notice your child has the following symptoms:

  • Swollen tongue, persistent cough, hoarse cry
  • Difficult or noisy breathing, wheezing
  • Pale or floppy, unresponsive/unconscious

Emergency care is critical. The sooner your baby has access to medical professionals, the better. Avoid the trigger food, do not try to reintroduce it.

If your child has a delayed type of an allergic reaction (see symptoms above), you need to stop the trigger food and wait for a few days for symptoms to resolve. You can try to reintroduce the food but make sure to reach out to your doctor if the symptoms come back.

What’s a Baby Food Allergy Rash?

Rashes are the most common allergy response in babies and young children. It’s usually the first symptom to show up. And although it can happen anywhere on their body, the rash is usually concentrated in a single spot. Use these quick facts to identify a food allergy rash:

Baby Food Allergy Rashes: Quick Facts

  • Food allergy rashes are also known as hives or wheals
  • Food allergy rashes look like round, red, and raised bumps.
  • Mild food allergy rashes are usually concentrated in a single area.
  • Severe food allergy rashes are found all over your child’s body.
  • Food allergy rashes can appear anywhere on your child’s skin.
  • Food allergy rashes show up within seconds or minutes of ingestion and can last several hours.


Remember: Skin rashes in babies can occur for various reasons, and not all of them are related to food allergies.

In some cases, skin rashes can be a sign of an infection. Contact type of skin rashes is also common in babies and usually occurs when the skin comes in contact with acidic juices from some fruit and vegetables. Contact rashes usually appear around the mouth and on the chin and go away after the skin has been cleaned.

How and when to Introduce Allergenic Foods

Introducing your baby to solid foods is an exciting moment in parenthood. But it can also be scary. “What if my baby has an allergy I don’t know about?”

The first thing you need to do is to identify if your child is at a higher risk of developing a food allergy. If your baby has eczema or an existing food allergy, speak to your doctor about the best way to introduce potential allergens. Your baby may benefit from an earlier introduction of certain allergenic foods, such as eggs and peanuts, and it may need to happen in the doctor's office.

If your baby is not at a higher risk of developing a food allergy, introduce allergenic foods like cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and soy, one at a time.

Best ways to introduce potentially allergenic foods:

  • Start at around 6 months or when your baby is ready for solids
  • Start with very small amounts
  • Introduce potential allergens in the morning, to give you enough time to watch for potential signs of an allergic reaction
  • Wait for three days before introducing another potential allergen
  • Crush or grind nuts to prevent choking.


Remember: When you introduce allergenic foods to your baby, have an emergency care plan ready.

Why shouldn’t you wait to introduce potential allergens?

Research shows that there is a link between the time of an allergenic food introduction and the risk of developing food allergy inthe future and allergy severity. That’s why the guidelines on introduction of potentially allergenic foods have been updated in many countries across the globe and parents are now advised to introduce allergens together with the rest of the solids, as soon as babies are switched to complementary foods, instead of delaying their introduction.

Food Allergies FAQ: Everything you need to know as a parent or caretaker

1. Can I cure my child’s food allergies?

Currently, no. Although a few desensitization protocols are being researched in different countries, here’s no cure for food allergies in children. The only way to prevent allergic reactions from happening is by strict avoidance of food triggers. But the good news is that some food allergies, such as wheat, eggs and milk, are often eventually outgrown.

2. Are food allergies genetic?

3. How do I prevent food allergies when I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

4. How do I dine out with a child who has food allergies?

5. Do allergy bracelets and necklaces prevent allergies?