Babies should Consume Peanuts to Prevent Allergy

Guidelines

New guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that most babies should regularly consume peanuts starting around 6 months of age, some as early as 4 months.

Although parents are still fearful of peanuts, the recommendations are based on research that discovered early exposure to peanuts is far more likely to prevent babies from developing peanut allergies, than to harm them. But this doesn’t mean babies can eat whole peanuts, or globs of peanut butter; these are choking hazards, and the guidelines are very specific on which babies should have peanuts, at what age they should start, and how they should be consumed.

Babies with severe eczema and those with egg allergies, for example, are both at high risk of an allergic reaction. These babies need a check-up before any peanut exposure, and might even get their first taste in the doctor’s office. For most other babies, parents can start adding foods that contain peanuts to their diet the same way they would introduce oatmeal or mashed veggies; watered-down peanut butter, or easy-to-gum peanut-flavored “puff” snacks are suggested.

Affecting roughly 2% of U.S. children, peanut allergies are a growing problem. Over the years, pediatricians have advised parents to avoid feeding their children peanuts until age 3. That recommendation was dropped in 2008, when it was discovered that this delay was ineffective, although, this discovery has not quelled fear in parents. The new guidelines issued by the NIH urge parents and doctors to proactively introduce peanut-based foods early.

The guidelines recommend:

  • All babies to try other solid foods before peanut-containing ones to ensure they’re developmentally ready for them.
  • High-risk babies, aged 4 to 6 months, to be examined by a doctor prior to peanut exposure, with parents careful to be extra vigilant in monitoring for reactions. Mild symptoms can include a rash or a few hives around the mouth or face, while severe reactions that require immediate medical care include widespread hives, swelling of the lips, face or tongue, wheezing or difficulty breathing, repetitive coughing, or fatigue and limpness.
  • Moderate-risk babies (those with milder eczema) and low-risk babies to start consuming peanut-based foods around 6 months at home.
  • Making peanut-based foods part of a baby’s regular diet, roughly 3 times a week, to build tolerance.

An NIH-funded study that assigned 600 babies to either avoid, or regularly consume peanut products, found that only 11% of those at highest risk had become allergic, with only 2% developing an allergy by the age of 5. For those study participants instructed to avoid peanuts, 14% had become allergic alongside 35% of those at highest risk.

The guidelines suggest that, even though the introduction of peanut-containing foods is safe to do at home, doctors should offer low-risk children an in-office taste to reassure hesitant parents. This cooperation will not only reduce peanut-related allergies, but will also increase the widespread, worry-free enjoyment of peanut butter once again.

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