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Why Feeding Your Baby Peanuts Sooner May Prevent Allergies

December 04, 2019

Over the past couple of decades, recommendations for introducing peanuts to children have shifted dramatically. After recommendations in 2000 were made to delay introduction to high-risk infants until age 3, peanut and other food allergies have continued to increase significantly. 

In 2015, a well-regarded study challenged this notion and suggested that eating peanuts sooner actually reduces the likelihood of an allergic response.

Since that time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated guidelines and now encourage parents to introduce peanuts much earlier, particularly for infants with an increased risk of allergies. 

Here’s what you need to know about allergies and introducing peanuts to little ones.

How to Introduce Peanuts to Non-High Risk Infants

Most infants do not fall into the highest risk group for food allergies. Mother feeding babyStill, risk always should be discussed and evaluated with your child’s doctor prior to a trial of highly allergenic foods at home. After this, peanuts can usually be introduced while monitoring closely for symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

Like all potentially allergenic foods, peanut butter should be given in small tastes at first. This can be done by mixing a small spoonful of peanut butter into a soft or pureed food, such as mashed banana or pureed apple. 

Remember, whole nuts should never be offered to babies or young children, as they pose a choking risk. The same is true for peanut and other nut butters, which tend to be sticky and difficult for infants to swallow. 

How to Know if an Infant Is High-Risk

Infants with a history of eczema, particularly those with moderate to severe eczema, are at a higher risk for peanut and other food allergies. Also, infants with known food allergies, such as an egg allergy, are at a much higher risk of developing allergies to other foods — particularly if those reactions are severe. 

In general, if your infant has demonstrated allergies to other foods, you’ll need to work with your pediatrician to decide when and how to safely introduce peanuts. Introducing peanuts at home without consultation is not a risk worth taking. Anaphylaxis — a life-threatening allergic reaction — can happen within a few minutes or less and be potentially fatal, even with immediate medical care. 

Common Signs of Allergies in Infants

If your infant has an allergic response to peanuts or any food, the symptoms are usually apparent. A common reaction is hives, a raised red rash that is typically itchy. Other symptoms include vomiting, bloody stools or diarrhea. 

Anaphylaxis is a less common but life-threatening reaction, which may include a sudden onset of swelling of the lips, face and/or tongue. This severe reaction may also include angioedema — a sensation of the throat closing or tightening, often associated with difficulty breathing and/or wheezing. It can result in respiratory failure or even death. 

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if your baby shows any sign of an allergic reaction. If your child shows signs of anaphylaxis or any other possibly life-threatening reaction, call 911 immediately. 

Allergy Tests Available for Infants

Depending on your infant’s risk factors, your pediatrician may suggest that allergy testing be performed before introducing peanuts or other potentially allergenic foods. These tests primarily consist of skin prick (aka scratch) testing, patch testing or blood testing. 

Blood testing is generally less invasive, typically does not require repeat visits and can be performed in the pediatrician’s office or a laboratory. Skin prick and patch testing are more involved and are usually performed by an allergy specialist. Follow-up visits may be required. However, the results are more specific, meaning that an abnormal result is often more meaningful. With blood testing, multiple substances often elicit a positive result, although no clinical allergy may be observed. 

Overall, food allergies and allergy testing can be tricky to navigate. Talking with your child’s doctor can help you make the most-informed decisions for your baby.

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