ALLERGIES such as asthma, hay fever, eczema and more recently to food have increased dramatically - to the point that we may consider it epidemic.
Even without a family history of allergies, a child has a 15 percent risk of developing an allergic condition in the first few years.
If just one parent has an allergic condition, the risk goes up to 40 or 50 percent. If both parents are allergic, this increases to between 60 and 80 percent.
A sibling with allergies is an indicator of potential allergic conditions in a baby.
Here are the messages on allergy prevention that Dr Claudia Gray has found to have solid scientific backing:
l Eat healthily and don't smoke.
l There is no need to cut out any food groups for the sake of allergy prevention as this does not reduce allergy in the offspring.
l Try to eat two or more portions of oily fish a week.
l If you are unable to do this, consider taking omega 3 supplements.
l Consider taking probiotics in the last trimester if your child is at risk of allergies (that is, if there is a family history of allergy in parents or siblings).
Feeding the newborn baby
l Breast milk is best and has allergy-prevention properties.
l Breast-feeding for the first six months has the best allergy-prevention effect.
l Continuing to breast-feed while the first solids are introduced seems to have some benefit.
l Prolonged feeding over six months has no further allergy prevention properties (but of course has other benefits).
l In high-risk babies consider giving a daily probiotic and prebiotic for the first three to four months (no absolute proof of this yet - but it sounds promising).
l Solids should be introduced when the child shows signs of readiness, but not before 4 months of age.
l There is no evidence that delaying solids prevents allergies - in fact it may increase allergies.
l Start with reasonably low allergenic foods such as apple, pear, carrot, butternut, sweet potato or rice cakes for the first few weeks.
l Thereafter you do not need to hold back on any particular food group - even highly allergenic foods such as egg and nuts as there is no evidence that delaying their introduction reduces allergies.
l Gray is a paediatrician with subspecialist training in pharmacology and allergology, and a clinical interest in paediatric nutrition. She completed her medical degree summa cum laude at the University of Cape Town. She moved to London for training as a paediatrician with a subspeciality in paediatric pharmacology. She also undertook a Master's degree in allergy at the University of Southampton, cementing her interest in allergies as a clinical subspeciality.
She has a paediatric and allergology practice at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town. She is also a part-time consultant at the allergy and asthma clinic at the Red Cross Children's Hospital, and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town.