Introducing infants to peanut-based foods can be an anxiety-ridden experience for many families. A growing number of children and adults seem to be developing food allergies that can be both devastating and deadly. Parents often avoid peanut exposure — but exposure is what the doctors now order.
Landmark research determined that a proactive introduction of peanuts dramatically lowers a baby’s chances of becoming allergic. On Thursday the National Institutes of Health issued a recommendation that babies start eating peanut-containing foods well before their first birthday.
The theory isn’t a new one. The recommendations follow observations by researchers of a higher rate by tenfold of peanut allergy among Jewish children in Britain who aren’t fed peanut products during infancy, compared to those in Israel, where peanut-based foods are common starting around seven months.
But to be sure exposure was best, the NIH in 2015 studied 600 babies who either avoided or regularly ate age-appropriate peanut products. By age five, only 2 percent of peanut eaters — and 11 percent of those at highest risk — became allergic. Among peanut avoiders, 14 percent had become allergic, and 35 percent of those were at highest risk.
The new guidelines for American families are very clear:
- All babies should be fed other solid foods before any peanut-containing ones, to be sure they’re developmentally ready.
- High-risk babies should have peanut-containing foods introduced as early as four to six months after a checkup to tell if they should have the first taste in the doctor’s office, or if it’s OK to try at home with a parent watching for any reactions.
- Moderate-risk babies have milder eczema, which is typically treated with over-the-counter creams. They should start peanut-based foods at around six months, at home.
- Most babies are low-risk, and parents can introduce peanut-based foods along with other solids, usually around six months.
- Building tolerance requires making peanut-based foods part of the regular diet about three times a week.