More and more studies are finding that early exposure to peanuts, specifically during infancy, can reduce a child’s likelihood of having a peanut allergy later on. Now, the latest research on the topic suggests new moms can protect their child from the potentially life-threatening allergy by consuming a diet containing peanuts while breastfeeding. In fact, their data shows kids were five times less likely to develop the allergy.
“We found that introduction of peanut before 12 months of age was associated with a reduced risk of peanut sensitization by school age, particularly among children whose mothers consumed peanuts while breastfeeding,” lead author Dr. Tracy J. Pitt from the Humber River Hospital told The Telegraph.
Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers analyzed data from 342 children from the time they were born until they were 7 years old. "Where mothers had eaten peanuts during breastfeeding as well as introducing nuts before 12 months, just 1.7% of children developed an allergy, compared to the overall incidence of 9.4%."
They concluded that the effect of moms eating peanuts while breastfeeding together with introducing peanuts to their child during the first year of life may be the most effective at lowering the risks of the allergy.
“Both passive peanut exposure through breast milk and peanut introduction in the first year of life may decrease peanut sensitization at age 7,” said Dr. Pitt.
Guidelines released just this year by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) advice parents to introduce peanut-containing food to babies as young as 4 months old after they've been given other solid foods. This comes after taking into consideration numerous factors including a groundbreaking study that shows early exposure to peanut-containing food may actually help kids develop long-term allergy protection, rather than cause it.
There are three separate peanut recommendations depending on the likelihood of a child to develop a peanut allergy. It's advised that a child's doctor decide, through consultations and allergy tests, what recommendation fits the infant:
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Guideline 1 - For high-risk infants or babies who already have severe eczema, egg allergy or both, peanut-containing food should be introduced to their diet as early as 4 to 6 months old.
Guideline 2 - For babies with mild or moderate eczema, they should be given peanut-containing foods at around 6 months old to reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy.
Guideline 3 - For low-risk infants, those who don't have eczema or any other food allergy, they can have peanut-containing food anytime after they have tasted other solid foods.
The safest way to introduce peanuts to babies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), is to mix two teaspoons of peanut butter with hot water until you end up with something that’s like a puree in consistency. Making sure it's not too hot, feed your child a little bit. Wait for 10 minutes and watch your child for signs of an allergic reaction which include rashes, behavior changes, and trouble breathing.
“If everything's fine after 10 minutes, you can continue to feed the puree to your child slowly, over time. It's really important to make sure when you do this you're at home and that there is a parent who can observe the child for at least the next two hours,” said Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician at Northwestern University and a member of ACAAI.
Remember, whole peanuts pose a choking hazard to babies. Never give your child whole nuts. Talk with your child’s doctor on how and when to give your child peanuts.