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Babies and allergies

With allergies on the rise, American Baby approached experts to figure out what moms, especially moms of newborns, need to know. Executive Editor Laura Kalehoff discusses what they found.

Allergies often have a genetic component. 15% of the general population develops allergies, and if you or your husband has them, there's a 25% chance your child will too. If you're both allergic, your child's risk jumps 60-70%. Your baby inherits the allergic tendency, not the specific allergy.

Babies can be allergic to cow's milk. 2-3% of kids under the age of 3 can't handle certain proteins in milk. It's the most pervasive allergy among infants. Parents usually spot the problem as soon as a baby starts on cow's milk formula, but breastfed babies sometimes react to diary in their mother's diet. Babies who are allergic to cow's milk may also be allergic to soy-based formula, so doctors usually don't recommend it. More than 80% of kids outgrow a cow's milk allergy, sometimes as young as age 3 but often not until age 8 or 9.

An itchy, red rash may be an early sign of allergies in your baby. 5 to 10% of children develop eczema, which usually shows up in the first year or two. The trigger isn't always known, but an allergy to cow's milk or to egg could be causing the problems.

When you introduce solids, watch out for food allergies. Most reactions manifest in the first two years of life. The top 8 trigger foods are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. It used to be that doctors told families to hold off on these foods in babies with family histories of allergies, but the AAP no longer supports this. In fact, recent studies show that delaying these foods may contribute to allergies. Talk to your doctor to find out what's right for you.

You might be able to help your baby avoid allergies. Studies show that breastfeeding for your baby's first four months and beyond may shield him from eczema and cow's milk allergy for the first two years of life. Babies who have lived with two or more dogs or cats at home are less likely to develop allergies to furry friends. Though it is wise to protect infants from infection, some experts say that exposure to dirt and germs can prime the immune system. The theory is that kids today grow up in a too clean environment, leaving their immune systems idle, so they start fighting off harmless substances.

For more information on protecting your child from allergies and other parenting tips, click here.

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