12/02/2013 00:01 EST | Updated 01/31/2014 05:59 EST

Babies can try allergy-provoking foods as early as 6 months

Babies may eat peanuts, eggs and other potential food allergens as early as six months, Canadian pediatricians say.

Children with a parent or sibling who has a food allergy or another allergic condition like eczema, asthma or hay fever are considered at high risk of developing a food allergy.

On Monday, the Canadian Pediatric Society published a position statement on allergy prevention in high-risk infants, which was endorsed by the Dietitians of Canada.

There's no evidence that delaying the introduction of potential allergens like peanuts, fish or eggs beyond six months helps to prevent allergy, Dr. Edmond Chan, a pediatric allergist and his team said.

The group also advises against avoiding milk, egg, peanut or other foods while pregnant or breastfeeding because there's no evidence that avoiding the foods helps to prevent allergy and there are risks of maternal undernutrition and potential harm to the infants.

The pediatric group said while these foods can be introduced to high-risk babies, the decision about when should be individualized and based on the parents' comfort level.

Once parents introduce a new food to babies, doctors recommend giving it several times per week with a soft mashed consistency to avoid the risk of choking to maintain a child's tolerance.

Doctors continue to recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months. For mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed, pediatricians suggest hydrolyzed cow's-milk-based formula, based on limited evidence.

Food allergies affect about seven per cent of Canadians. Some research from Australia suggests food allergy in babies is increasing, affecting more than 10 per cent of one-year-olds.

Researchers continue to investigate whether introducing potential allergens earlier, at four to six months, has any protective effect.