Baby allergies: What you need to know

Know how to spot an allergy in your baby and learn what to do if he develops one.


A sudden rash, watery eyes, bloody diarrhoea or hives on your baby’s entire body.

When you get an allergic reaction, it can be anything from mild to life-threatening. And no matter how mild these symptoms are, it can be quite scary for parents, especially if they appear in a young baby.

In babies, an allergic reaction happens when he is particularly sensitive to certain foods or the environment, and his immune system reacts to it.

When your baby comes into contact or close proximity to a certain allergen, his body produces an antibody called IgE. Every time he encounters the allergen, this IgE binds with the fighting cells in his body to release chemicals like histamines, which cause the allergic symptoms.

In Singapore, common allergens include eggs, cow’s milk, wheat, soy, shellfish and nuts, says Dr Dawn Lim, a paediatrician at Kinder Clinic @ Paragon, and author of All You Need to Know About Your Child's Allergy.

“Breastfeeding your baby for at least the first four months of his life has been proven to reduce the incidence of allergies.”

Besides food allergies, your baby may also develop eczema if he has sensitive skin. The eczema could be triggered by the environment or other food allergies. “If your newborn has bad cradle cap, that’s a marker that he has sensitive skin. Later on, he may develop eczema in typical areas, such as the face and neck,” Dr Lim notes. 

Symptoms of an allergy include:

·         Severe eczema.

·         Other skin issues like rashes around the mouth or hives around the whole body.

·         Vomiting.

·         Wheezing or difficulty breathing.

·         Red and runny eyes and nose.

·         Bloody stools and diarrhoea.

What causes an allergy?

Genes play a role in your child’s allergies, so if your baby has a sibling with an allergy, or if you or your spouse has an allergy, then your baby is at a greater risk of getting an allergy.

Dr Lim also highlights the hygiene hypothesis ― that allergies are more common in developed countries than underdeveloped countries because your immunity is lowered when you are “too clean”, since you have less practice at fighting germs.

She adds, “That’s why as a country develops, the incidence of allergies rises. But you’ve got to have a balance ― you can’t compromise hygiene and risk the kids getting things like pin worms and TB.”

So, can anything be done to prevent your baby from developing allergies?

“Breastfeeding your baby for at least the first four months of his life has been proven to reduce the incidence of allergies,” says Dr Lim.

Also, your baby can be exposed to allergens in the air, especially if his skin is sensitive. “There was a study where babies who never consumed the allergen actually reacted to the allergen exposed their skin,” Dr Lim explains. This could simply be nuts on the table, or traces of food particles on the floor.

What this means is that if you moisturise your baby’s skin more and maintain or restore the skin barrier, they are less likely to be sensitive to those allergens.

What do you do if you suspect your baby is having an allergic reaction? Click through!