Eggs, mums and bubs: allergy myths and truths

Whether you’re pregnant, a new mum or have young kids at home, the last thing you want to worry about is getting the best nutrition into your child. What’s more, you’re most likely surrounded by a ton of advice and ‘inspiration’ on social media and online, some of it helpful; some of it simply confusing. It can be overwhelming, and tricky to know what’s true. It can feel like it’s making something simple quite complicated.

There are some things you might have read or seen about eggs, health and allergies that might make you unsure about whether or not to include them in your or your child’s diet. Here’s the lowdown on a few of these.

What you’ll hear:

Don’t eat eggs during pregnancy; it might cause your baby to become allergic to them. 

The truth:

There’s no evidence that avoiding eggs in pregnancy will reduce the risk of an egg allergy in a baby. The Paediatric Society of New Zealand says pregnant women are advised to eat a well-balanced diet. Eggs are a useful food during pregnancy, as egg yolks contain choline, which research suggests is an overlooked nutrient which plays an important role in brain and spinal cord development during pregnancy. What’s more, there are lots of other useful nutrients and vitamins in eggs to encourage good health.

What you’ll hear:

Delay the introduction of eggs into your baby’s diet to prevent egg allergy developing. 

The truth:

Evidence is growing that the opposite is actually true: delaying the introduction of allergenic foods may actually contribute to the development of food allergy. Breast milk is the best food for babies for at least the first six months of life (and breastfeeding mums should keep eating eggs, too) but once you do start to introduce solids, including eggs will be a useful way to get nutrients into your child and to reduce the risk of egg allergy developing later on. The Paediatric Society recommends introducing eggs at around 6 months, and advises ‘when there is a family history of allergy there is moderate evidence that the introduction of well-cooked egg before 8 months of age can reduce the risk of developing egg allergy’.

What you’ll hear:

Eggs might be causing your baby’s eczema/reflux/colic other reaction.

The truth:

It’s easy to think a food might be causing a reaction in a baby or child. And it might be – food allergies are on the rise. However, food triggers for allergic reactions are tricky to pin down, and it’s strongly advised you seek professional help before eliminating foods from a child’s diet. That’s because things like eczema and reflux could easily be caused by something else entirely. In the case of eczema, only one in three children has a food allergy that might make eczema symptoms worse. And even so, it’s thought food is not the root cause of eczema. Most food allergies cause hives, vomiting and irritability within 30 minutes of eating.

Cutting out foods you’ve already introduced may have unintended consequences, too. The Paediatric Society says stopping a food that’s been previously tolerated may result in a loss of tolerance and the development of allergy to that food.

Experts are also increasingly worried about nutritional deficiencies developing when young children are on very restrictive diets. Eggs are a great source of protein, healthy fats and vitamins for children.

What’s the best way to introduce eggs to babies?

As with all new foods, try them one at a time so you can track any reactions. It’s recommended to Introduce well-cooked egg in small amounts to start with.  You might like to mix a small amount ( say ¼ teaspoon) of mashed hard-boiled egg with a liquid such as breast milk or formula, or into the baby’s usual food. Gradually increase the amount the next time if the baby is not having any allergic reactions. Or try giving baked egg – such as a small bite of a muffin – and then progress to hard-boiled egg if all is well.

Once you’ve introduced them, keep giving eggs to your baby regularly (twice weekly), as part of a varied diet, to maintain tolerance. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy says trying a food and then not giving it regularly may result in a food allergy developing.

Words by Niki Bezzant a writer, journalist and speaker specialising in food, science and health.

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