When Can Children Eat Shellfish?

The time to start allowing children to eat shellfish depends on your family's history of atopic disease, such as allergies and asthma. Before you serve up a hearty helping of lobster bisque or scoop a spoonful of shrimp alfredo onto your child's plate, make sure you get approval from a pediatrician, especially if your child is under 1 year of age or has an immediate family member with food allergies.

Steamed crab claws on a plate. (Image: myibean/iStock/Getty Images)

Shellfish Facts

The shellfish group consists of edible shelled crustaceans and mollusks, such as oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs, lobster and crayfish or crawdads. As one of the seven foods most likely to cause food allergies in children, seafood in the shellfish family has a bad reputation that causes many parents to steer clear of it when choosing menu options for their children, especially those under 3 years of age. Children and adults who are allergic to shellfish typically remain so for the rest of their lives.

No Family Allergies

If your family has no history of allergies, you should typically be able to introduce shellfish to your child's diet as early as 6 months of age, according to a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the January 2008 issue of the journal "Pediatrics." Prior to the publication of that report, the AAP recommended that these children not consume shellfish until after 1 year of age. But current evidence does not indicate that delaying the introduction of highly allergic foods, such as shellfish, helps to significantly reduce the development of food allergies in children, notes Dr. Frank Greer, pediatrician and coauthor of the AAP report.

Family Allergies

If your family has a history of allergies or asthma, be prepared to proceed with caution when giving your child shellfish, especially if a parent or sibling has food allergies. In these families, one of four children develops a food allergy before 7 years of age, notes Dr. Greer. As a precaution, check with the pediatrician to determine the most appropriate age for introducing shellfish to your child's diet. In some cases, your doctor might allow you to introduce shellfish when your child is between 6 and 12 months of age, but she'll take your child's personal medical history into consideration when deciding.

Considerations

Watch for signs of food allergies when giving children shellfish. As a precaution, don't introduce any other new foods during the five to seven days after giving shellfish for the first time; if your child does experience food allergy symptoms, this practice helps narrow down shellfish as the most likely culprit. Potential indications your child might be experiencing an allergic reaction to the shellfish include itchy bumps on the skin, swelling on the face or mouth, coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulty, a runny nose and nausea or vomiting. Contact your pediatrician immediately if you notice your child develop any of these symptoms after eating shellfish. Severe symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room in case of anaphylactic shock.

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