Parents should introduce common allergenic foods to high-risk babies earlier than previously suggested, according to new health expert guidelines.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends feeding potentially allergenic foods to infants who are in danger of developing a food allergy, by the time they reach six months of age — but not before four months of age.

Previous guidance recommended exclusively breastfeeding high-risk infants for their first six months.

Babies are considered at high-risk if they have a tendency to develop allergies like hay fever and asthma, or if they have a close relative with allergies.

“We now have much more reliable evidence, so have shifted to a position of actively introducing those foods by about six months,” Genevieve Brouillette from the CPS told CTV News.

“Recommendations for lower-risk children remain the same – complementary foods including common allergens should be introduced at around six months of age, according to signs of developmental readiness.”

New evidence suggests introducing allergenic solids before a high risk baby reaches six months, which may help prevent food allergy development, particularly for eggs and peanuts, CPS said in a new report.

One study showed a risk reduction of up to 80 per cent when peanuts were introduced early.

CPS also suggests introducing allergens one at a time and, once introduced, continuing to offer them regularly to maintain tolerance.

Breastfeeding should continue while introducing these foods, the CPS said.

Dr. Elissa Abrams, chair of the CPS Allergy Section and a pediatric immunologist with the University of Manitoba, said a cultural shift was needed, with the help of the medical community.

"A Canadian framework provides clarity and consistency to families and primary care providers, and has the potential to significantly improve public health," she said.

Food allergies affect between two to 10 per cent of the population, CPS said.