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Shellfish can be a healthy part of your child's diet soon after she begins to eat solid food, usually when she's around 4 to 6 months. But if your baby has chronic eczema or a food allergy, talk to the doctor first before giving your baby shellfish.
You'll want to check with the doctor because shellfish is one of the top allergenic foods, and most doctors recommend starting with traditional first solids (such as baby cereal, pureed meat, fruits, or vegetables) before offering your baby shellfish.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Allergy and Immunology says that most babies can start eating allergenic foods after introducing a few traditional first foods without causing an allergic reaction. Even children with mild eczema or a family history of food allergies or asthma can try foods like shellfish as long as they tolerate more common foods first.
Some children should not start eating allergenic foods such as shellfish until the doctor has given the green light. Talk to the doctor if your baby:
- Has moderate to severe eczema after following a doctor's skin treatment plan
- Has had an immediate allergic reaction to a food in the past
- Was previously diagnosed with a food allergy
When introducing an allergenic food, the AAP recommends giving it to your baby at home, rather than at daycare or a restaurant. And as with any new food, serve it for three to five days before offering something else. That way you can monitor her for a reaction and know what's likely causing it.
Signs of a food allergy are facial swelling (including the tongue and lips), skin rash, wheezing, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your baby shows any of these signs – mild or severe – or has trouble breathing right after eating a new food, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Besides an allergy, there are a few other things you'll want to watch out for:
- Bacteria or viruses. The AAP warns that children shouldn't eat raw or undercooked shellfish, including dishes like ceviche (which is prepared by soaking the seafood in an acidic citrus marinade to "cold cook" it). Raw or partly cooked fish may contain bacteria and viruses that a healthy adult could tolerate but that would make a young child seriously ill.
- Mercury. The AAP says not to give your child more than 12 ounces of fish a week because there are traces of mercury in some fish – even the kinds low in mercury, like shellfish.
- Choking. When introducing shellfish, start with one that's easy to puree, such as crab or lobster. Wait until your baby is able to chew other finger foods before offering her pieces of shrimp and other shellfish that are harder to puree.