Doctors are advising parents to feed babies peanut products before their first birthday to reduce the child’s risk of developing a peanut allergy.
The advice appears in a new guide for health care providers. It was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
A team of allergy experts and child care specialists wrote the new guidance. They suggest adding soft, crushed peanuts to a baby’s diet beginning at four months of age. They say babies should continue to get “substantial” amounts of peanut products in their first year of life.
Doctor George du Toit is with King’s College London in Britain. He helped prepare the guide. He said it is important to speak with a doctor early on to make sure the child does not already have an allergic reaction.
The new guidance is a “complete reversal” from earlier advice to parents, noted Doctor Ruchi Gupta. Earlier guidelines suggested waiting to feed children peanut products until they were much older.
Gupta is a pediatrician and food allergy researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She predicted that many parents will be fearful of following the new guidance.
“There’s...resistance from parents because they’re fearful about doing this at home with their infants and what may happen,” Gupta told the Reuters news agency.
Peanut allergies usually develop before age 2. They are a major worry for parents, who need to closely watch everything their children eat inside and outside the home.
Allergic reactions to peanuts can include skin conditions, difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. The person can feel sick to the stomach, and develop swelling of the tongue, eyes or face. In severe cases, a peanut reaction can kill, unless the child is given an injection of epinephrine.
Because of such risks, doctors had been urging parents to avoid giving peanut products to babies.
But a 2015 study led medical experts to reconsider the guidelines.
The study involved 640 babies, all of whom were younger than 11 months. Each child had either an egg allergy or the skin condition eczema. Both disorders increase the child’s risk for developing a peanut allergy. But researchers found that when these high-risk babies were fed a small amount of peanut butter three times a week, only three percent went on to develop the allergy after five years. By comparison, 17 percent of children who avoided peanuts became allergic.
In the new guidelines, the experts propose introducing peanut protein as one of a baby’s first foods.
Christopher Warren works with Gupta at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He told Reuters, “A lot of people assume that this just means feed it to (babies) once, but it is really important that you feed repeatedly and over a longer period of time.”
This, Warren added, will help the body’s natural defenses against disease learn how to process and deal with peanuts.
The method of early introduction has also been tested with other major allergenic foods, like milk, egg, fish and wheat. The method has been especially effective for both egg and peanut allergies, experts note.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Words in This Story
allergy - n. a medical condition that causes someone to become sick after eating, touching, or breathing something that is harmless to most people
reversal - n. a change to an opposite state, condition, decision, etc.
pediatrician - n. a doctor who treats babies and children
swell - v. to become larger than normal
epinephrine - n. a kind of medication that is used in emergencies to treat serious allergic reactions to insects, foods, drugs or other substances.
introduce - v. to make (someone) known to someone else by name
assume - v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true