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Most babies can have cheese as soon as they're used to chewing or gumming different types of foods, usually around 6 to 9 months. To prevent choking, chop the cheese into tiny pieces the size of your baby's fingertip.
But if your baby has chronic eczema or a food allergy, talk to the doctor first before giving your baby cheese. Cheese isn't one of the top allergenic foods, but it can still cause allergies because it contains milk protein.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Allergy and Immunology says that most babies can start eating cheese after a few traditional solid foods (such as baby cereal, pureed meat, vegetables, and fruits) have been introduced without an allergic reaction. Even children with mild eczema or a family history of food allergies or asthma can eat cheese as long as they tolerate more common foods first.
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 at least three to five days before offering something else. That way you can monitor for a reaction and know what's likely causing it.
Some children should not start eating cheese 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
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.
When choosing cheese for your child – whether it's made from cow, sheep, or goat's milk – make sure it's pasteurized. (It will say so on the product label.) Cheese made with unpasteurized (or raw) milk is off-limits to babies because it could be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes, a form of bacteria that can cause fatal foodborne illness, especially in infants.
Don't worry about lactose intolerance. There isn't very much lactose in cheese and babies usually don't have trouble digesting it.