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New peanut allergy study may change the way we feed babies

A recent study shows that babies who are exposed on a regular basis to peanut-containing foods may be less apt to develop a peanut allergy. Does this mean you can load your baby up with peanuts?

A randomized trial that involved 640 infants showed that babies who consumed foods that contained peanuts were less likely to develop a peanut allergy than their peers who avoided peanuts for the first part of their lives. This is huge news, but some moms — me included — wonder what this means for us.

When I had my first baby in 1995, infant feeding recommendations were not what they are today. I was encouraged to give my little boy solid foods when he was shy of 4 months old, and I was instructed to not give him any of the common allergens until he was over a year old. And peanuts and tree nuts? Wait until he’s 3. Now experts suggest waiting until a baby is at least 6 months old before moving to solid foods, and allergen recommendations aren’t that strict.

This study, however, had results that surprised some. The parents of the children, who were all at high risk of developing peanut allergies, were either told to feed them peanut-containing foods or to avoid doing so, starting between 4 and 11 months of age. The children were also separated out into two additional groups: One group consisted of babies whose skin prick tests for peanut allergies were negative, and the other group had a positive result.

The children were followed until they were 5 years old, and it was found that the kids who ate peanuts during infancy and beyond had a lower incidence of peanut allergies when compared to the kids who avoided eating them. Those in the negative skin test group showed a peanut allergy incidence of 13.7 percent in the avoidance group and 1.9 percent in the consumption group. And the children who initially had a positive skin test had similar results: 35.3 percent in the avoidance group and 10.6 percent in the consumption group.

What does this mean for us moms, though? I have two children with peanut allergies, and while these results are amazing and quite promising, the thought of giving peanut food to an infant gives me the heebie-jeebies. Of course, you cannot give a baby peanut butter or whole peanuts, because both are choking hazards, but study author Gideon Lack told NPR that he was inspired by his Israeli colleagues who told him Israeli parents give very young children snacks that are made with bits of peanuts and corn — and he also noted the incidence of peanut allergies there is very low.

The issue is that you can’t predict what child will severely react to peanut consumption. Even a young infant who has never had peanuts before can go into anaphylactic shock and die, so I’m not sure moms should willy-nilly start giving their babies peanut snacks without talking to their physician first.

Nobody wants a peanut allergy. Not only is it restrictive, but it can be extremely dangerous, and kids can and do die from accidental peanut ingestion. Any research that indicates a way out of this is definitely a step in the right direction, and Lack indicates he is continuing to follow the children to see if they need to continue eating peanuts to keep the allergy at bay. However, despite the definite concerns, it’s exciting that there may be an answer, and while more research needs to be done, the results we have so far are promising — just talk to your kid’s doctor first.

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