BY ALLERGIC LIVING
Robin Pompa knows well the life of a food allergy mom. The Connecticut mother of four let her eldest child take a taste of egg when she was a baby. Life changed in seconds. "I gave her a bite of my scrambled eggs and she swelled up like a bawling, red tomato," says Robin, who clearly recalls the ambulance ride and the fear she felt that day.
Clara, now 9, went on to develop allergies to some tree nuts. Then her two younger brothers came along, and each of them would prove allergic to egg, while the younger boy also reacted to sesame.
So when pregnant with Laurence, her fourth child, Robin says, “we knew he was very highly disposed to having food allergies.” Robin was also well aware that the thinking about when to introduce potentially allergenic foods to a baby had completely changed since her older children were born. New research shows that introducing your baby early to a diverse array of foods can train the immune system – and help reduce the odds of food allergies.
Robin had learned about this as both a science writer by profession, and as an allergy mom. “I think people are more aware of prevention when they have one child who is allergic and then have another child,” she says. With Laurence, Robin was convinced that early food introduction was the way to go.
Baby Meets Foods
But how to do this introduction? Robin kept thinking someone should invent a baby food that included the big potential allergens. Then she discovered SpoonfulOne*, a precisely measured food solution that includes proteins from peanuts, various tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy and sesame. This not only allows for introduction, but the needed ongoing feeding that Robin knew was essential.
The new blend, which is mixed into a baby's food, unites food allergy prevention with a healthy diet. The concept behind SpoonfulOne is for parents to introduce diverse, real foods during infancy. But because research shows it's hard for parents to get all these foods in regularly during infancy and toddlerhood, SpoonfulOne ensures they are getting proteins from important potential allergens every single day.
When he was four months, Robin began letting Laurence suck some SpoonfulOne powder off her fingers. He was soon having the contents of the brand's 2-gram packet stirred into his yogurt. Now 13 months old, Laurence has been eating SpoonfulOne daily since. He has not developed any allergies – and clearly enjoys his food.
Robin points out, however, that the early food introduction thinking is still in its own infancy. To any parents who followed the older advice and whose child developed food allergies, she says: "I don't think anyone should feel guilty. The advice changed so recently."
In fact, until the past few years, the medical guidance to parents on allergy prevention was to delay introducing allergenic foods, such as dairy, egg and peanuts. Unfortunately, that advice turned out to be wrong. Over two decades with this guidance, the incidence of food allergies skyrocketed – 5.6 million American children today have food allergies. That's 2 kids in every classroom.
"Pediatricians like me contributed to the problem," says leading pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson. "We medicalized infant feeding by advising people to delay foods over years." Not that anyone meant to mislead; the evidence just wasn't there.
That changed in 2015 when, as Dr. Swanson says, "everything turned on its head for food allergy prevention."
A LEAP Into Prevention
The groundbreaking LEAP study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, proved that introducing peanut in babies at high risk for peanut allergy reduced the odds of such an allergy by up to 80 percent. It was astonishing. A year later, the same U.K. researchers published the EAT study. This looked at whether introducing six allergenic foods (peanut, egg, milk, sesame, whitefish and wheat) to infants was safe to do. It was.
There are other studies, too. Such as the large Canadian CHILD study, which found that avoiding milk, egg and peanut until after a child's first birthday increased the chance the child would be sensitized to these foods.
With the EAT study, “it proved that it is safe to introduce multiple common allergens to young infants,” says Dr. Swanson. Among the 1,300 participating babies, there was zero anaphylaxis, and the rate of allergy was reduced in those babies whose moms were able to get 6 foods in each week, in keeping with the study protocol. “Problem was, only a minority of parents could stick to the regimen of introducing all of these foods in a week," she says.
Robin can relate. She loves to cook, but finds SpoonfulOne far more convenient than preparing numerous allergenic foods in baby-friendly fashion. Nor does she have to track which allergens Laurence has had. "That was the biggest thing to me," she says. "Did the child have fish this week? Has he had soy, or pistachio or cashew? How many times this week, and how much? It's a lot to track."
Leading Allergist's Formula
Dr. Swanson has become a passionate advocate for food allergy prevention. So much so that she’s taken on the role of chief medical officer of Before Brands, the company that makes SpoonfulOne. It has developed its Food Allergy Protection Plan, based on the pillars of food introduction of potential allergens at 4 to 6 months, preferably while still breastfeeding. They are:
- Early food introduction;
- Diverse diet in infancy;
- And routine inclusion of these foods through toddlerhood.
"We're trying to create comfort in families to understand that delay of potential allergens is the risk. Introduction is not," Dr. Swanson says.
The SpoonfulOne formula is the invention of Dr. Kari Nadeau, the acclaimed California pediatric allergist and PhD protein biochemist. She wanted to help families have a practical way to introduce the main potential allergens both early and routinely.
In developing SpoonfulOne, Dr. Nadeau conducted a controlled study with 450 babies and children of high and typical risk for food allergies. They were divided into groups. The first 3 groups were fed a 10-protein food combination of allergenic foods (at 30 mg of each food, 90 mg of each food, or 300 mg of each). Other groups got either a 2-protein food combination, a single food, or had the placebo. Supporting the value of diverse diet and inclusion, after a year of feeding, study results proved that children fed the 10-food blend (at low or high amount) showed the most dramatic decrease in food-specific IgE allergy antibodies compared to the other groups.
Purees and Peanut Butter
California mom KK Sample discovered early introduction for her baby Isabella about a year ago, shortly after she was diagnosed with her own adult-onset allergies to eggs and black beans. At Isabella's 4-month checkup, the pediatrician told KK and her husband they could begin introducing Izzy to solids, including potential allergens. "We were like, whoa, how do we do this?" she recalls.
The pediatrician gave them the confidence to try; then a friend told her about SpoonfulOne. "We started small, with purees. Later, we would just pour the [mix-in] powder into her oatmeal." KK, who doesn't get contact reactions, says her daughter turned out to be "a little foodie."
Isabella, who's now 15 months, has progressed to the brand's flavorful puffs (for kids over 6 months) and oat crackers. "She's obsessed with the strawberry puffs," says her mom.
She is also eating peanut butter. "I don't think I would have been confident giving her peanut butter if I hadn't used the SpoonfulOne product and known peanut wasn't a problem," says KK. "That's been great, too."
In her understanding of the latest research, Robin admits to having a unique advantage. She was dealing with her older kids' allergies while living in England, and was referred to see Dr. Gideon Lack, the LEAP study author. The allergist helped Clara and the two middle boys to successfully navigate oral immunotherapy, and he advised Robin on allergy prevention in babies.
"I was lucky. If my pediatrician had sent me to a different doctor, I would still have three highly allergic children now. And probably Laurence, too," she says.
For Baby's Good Health
Robin appreciates that early introduction of potential allergens isn't easy for those with babies considered higher risk. When Robin felt nervous at first about this, she reminded herself that she was doing Laurence a service for life, and that there were no serious reactions in the EAT study.
Dr. Swanson thinks food allergy families are the most likely to relate to the goal of significantly reducing food allergies in the next generation of kids. "They know the lifestyle changes, the anxiety and fears when one of their children has severe food allergies."
To help ease nerves in initial feedings with any food, she counsels giving yourself a pep talk and trusting the safety of introduction that has been shown in research from around the world. Then she says, focus on the natural process and wonder of nourishing a baby.
"Food introduction is beautiful," Dr. Swanson reminds. "It's fun, it's exciting, kids enjoy it. Parents feel so good when their babies eat. Let's not lose sight of this: eating healthy foods together as a family can be one of the most spiritual and lovely things that we do."
*SpoonfulOne is not recommended for babies who already have an established food allergy.