With research now showing that delaying the introduction of allergens to infants may increase the risk of developing allergies, there's been a purposeful focus on "letting the babies eat" - which is a catchy phrase to help remind parents of this important data (links to useful data at the end of this article).
But what happens when fear enters the equation (which it likely will, because fear is a normal emotional response to a perceived and/or actual threat, such as an allergic reaction). When fear gets in the way of introducing new foods?
Maybe you're the parent/caregiver of an infant and want to introduce allergens, but are scared to. Or perhaps you have a toddler and while you haven't been diligent about introducing new foods along the way, you now want to, but find that your nerves are getting in the way of actually following through.
While it's outside of The FAC's professional scope to provide any medical guidance, it's within its scope to offer tips to help navigate the fear and anxiety impacting your ability to follow through with introducing new foods. With that said, this important disclaimer needs to be made before moving on to helpful tips:
Guidance given here is for educational purposes; please consult with your own allergist and/or physician for guidance specific to your situation, including determining which foods are safe to introduce and when.
Now, let's get to 3 practical tips to help you introduce foods even with fear present!
Tip #1: Make "Bite-Sized" Goals:
Especially if you're feeling that you're "behind" on the goal of introducing new foods, you may set such high expectations that you'll get derailed before you even start. Maybe you're pressuring yourself to introduce as many foods as possible, as quickly as possible! But if you find that approach only leads to more avoidance of food introductions, then it's not a workable approach for you. Here's what may help if this is how you're feeling, whether you're working on infant food introduction or introductions with an older child:
We tend to be judgmental of ourselves when we are unable to follow through with tasks we feel we should be doing. This may lead to thoughts of "Why aren't I brave enough?" and "I'm not being a good enough allergy parent!" And once we jump down that judgmental rabbit hole, it may actually feel harder to introduce foods since we're now dealing with fear AND judgement! Here's what helps if you find yourself experiencing self-judgement:
Yes, one big WHY for introducing allergens early and often are to help with allergy prevention, but there are likely other reasons why you're wanting to do food introductions. These WHYs become important reminders that help us push through the times when we're anxious, and help us stay on track when it feels hard to do so. To determine your additional WHYs for food introduction, ask yourself these questions:
BONUS Tip for Toddler Food Introduction:
Start off super simple - by making food feel like a fun topic to explore! With foods approved for introduction, focus on helping your child learn about them. Start by finding books that include the foods and spotting them in stories, pointing them out at grocery stories, and if approved by your allergist/physician, touching them* - basically anything that helps them become open to trying the food. Then build from there! This sets a fun tone for food introduction, and is one way to get your foot on the first rung of that introduction ladder.
*[Discuss with your allergist/healthcare provider whether touching allergens prior to introducing/ingesting it is recommended or not, especially if your child is at higher risk for developing food allergy, or is managing eczema and other allergic conditions].
So here are this week's takeaways:
To read more on the topic of food introduction, check out these resources:
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