The thought of giving our little ones a potentially deathly allergen is terrifying -- but new peanut guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tell us to do just that. Contrary to what you might have heard about peanuts and babies, NIH is officially recommending that we introduce peanuts a lot sooner rather than later -- and, in doing so, potentially save our babies developing life-threatening allergies.
Why? Experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is a sector of the National Institutes of Health, believe introducing foods containing peanuts to babies can actually prevent peanut allergies.
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This isn't the first time we're hearing about this concept -- but the fact that this recommendation is now official is major. And, what's perhaps most counterinututive: NIH researchers now say that children at highest risk should be exposed to peanuts earliest.
These new guidelines, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and other medical journals, are based on scientific findings from data collected from clinical trials -- including the groundbreaking Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study. LEAP found that children most susceptible to peanut allergies who ate peanut-containing foods as babies were 80 percent less likely to develop allergies by age 5.
This in turn has allowed researchers to update the 2010 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States with an addendum of guidelines that support introducing foods containing peanuts to babies in order to prevent peanut allergies.
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The NIAID's guidelines are broken down into three groups: infants with high, moderate, and low risk for developing peanut allergies. Based on those groups, they provide recommendations parents can use to decide when and how to introduce your baby to peanuts, under the advice of your pediatrician. As you'll see, much of the guidelines' suggestions are based on signs of eczema, as medical experts believe there's an association with eczema and food allergy.
Babies with a high risk of developing peanut allergies:
Experts note that babies who already have a severe egg allergy or severe eczema (or both) are most at risk for developing peanut allergies. Parents are advised to feed these children foods containing peanuts as early as 4 to 6 months if they have already been introduced to solid foods and are regularly eating them.
Note: Researchers strongly recommend parents of babies who fit in the high-risk category speak with their child's pediatrician before giving their baby any peanut-containing foods. Doctors might want to run tests first to make sure your child doesn't have an allergy to peanuts and can safely eat peanut-containing foods.
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Babies with a moderate risk of developing peanut allergies:
According to the new guidelines, children with mild signs of eczema can start eating peanut-containing foods around 6 months. While experts say parents who have children in this category don't need to have their babies evaluated by a doctor before giving LO peanut-containing foods, it's certainly safest to consult a pediatrician.
Babies with a low risk of developing peanut allergies:
Researchers believe infants who do not have an allergy to eggs and do not have eczema are considered low-risk for developing a peanut allergy. Experts say parents can add peanut-containing foods into these babies' dients along with other solid foods.
Regardless of your child's risk of developing a peanut allergy, experts urge parents to feed their babies age-appropriate food (remember, whole peanuts can be a choking hazard to small kids) and remain alert for any signs of possible reactions. The Washington Post notes the new guidelines provide step-by-step instructions -- and recipes -- parents can use when trying to expose LO to peanut-containing foods. (Score!)
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As a mom of 2½- and 1½-year-old tots, I get nervous thinking about food allergies and whether or not one of my boys will develop one. They eat EVERYTHING. Thankfully there haven't been any signs, though I do admit I have tried to dodge peanut-containing foods in the past.
Hopefully this new info can help reduce the likelihood of small children developing a peanut allergy, as the dangers for kids who do have them can be quite frightening.
Maybe it's time to stock up on peanut butter?