Becoming a parent brings endless joy but can also lead to confusion and worry. Every decision takes on new significance when it affects your child. Parents have many concerns about their children’s health, but with so much in the news today about unsafe additives to our food supply, a safe nourishing diet is probably the most pressing.
When preparing meals, parents often wonder when certain foods can be incorporated into their children’s diet. Shellfish has many health benefits and can contribute to a child’s growth and development. Yet, there can be risks when shellfish is eaten, even by healthy adults. So when is it acceptable for children to start eating shellfish?
Concerns over introduction of shellfish into a child’s diet fall into two main categories: allergic reactions and mercury levels. A 2008 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that there is no connection between the time a food is introduced into a child’s diet and the development of allergies. Therefore, it can be safe to include shellfish in a child’s diet as early as six months if there is no family history of allergies and he or she has shown no other symptoms of allergic reaction. The Cleveland Clinic lists these signs of an allergic reaction to shellfish: itching; hives; eczema; tingling or swelling of the lips, tongue or throat; difficulty breathing; wheezing; abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; dizziness or fainting; anaphylaxis. If your child exhibits any of these signs, you should seek medical care immediately.
Although all fish and shellfish contain some level of mercury, the FDA advises that young children eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp. It is recommended for a child with no known allergies to be fed six ounces of fish or shellfish twice a week. Parents should watch and be vigilant for any signs of mercury poisoning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, signs of mercury poisoning include: problems with peripheral vision; a “pins and needles” feeling; lack of coordination; speech, hearing and walking impairment; and muscle weakness.
So, when is it safe to begin feeding your child shellfish? The most recent studies suggest it can be safe at six months. Choose shellfish known to have low levels of mercury, such as shrimp. Be watchful for signs of allergic reaction, and as always, consult your pediatrician with any problems or concerns.