Few things make parents as nervous as the idea of a peanut allergy. Well, lots of things make new parents nervous. Peanuts. Blankets. Stuffed animals in the bed. Pennies. Whether or not Sophie the Giraffe is a choking hazard. Parents are just nervous people. But peanut allergies are extremely common, and they can be life-threatening. Nobody wants their child to suffer from a life-threatening peanut allergy, and according to new guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, one way to help prevent peanut allergy is to start feeding peanuts earlier.
According to NPR, the new recommendations follow several recent studies that indicate feeding peanut-containing foods to babies can help prevent them from developing allergies. The NIH is now recommending that parents give peanut-containing foods to babies as young as four to six months old.
Until recently, parents were told to avoid peanut exposure until the toddler years. Now, however, they suggest that babies are less likely to develop allergies if they’re exposed to peanuts in the first year of life. Babies with risk factors-including eczema, allergies to eggs or other foods, or family history–should be exposed to peanuts as early as four months, after checking with a doctor.
Babies should clearly not be given whole peanuts, which are a choking hazard. Peanut butter is too, because it is sticky. A better option is to mix some peanut butter with water, then give the baby a couple spoonfuls and watch them for adverse reactions.
For babies without any risk factors for allergies–including eczema, known allergies to other foods, or family history–parents can give them peanuts whenever.
This is not brand-new information. The studies that inspired the updated guidelines have been around for a few years, and they indicated that early peanut exposure helped prevent peanut allergies. But not all parents sit around reading medical studies, and officially updating the guidelines for peanut exposure will make things easier for parents. Heck, it will probably make things a lot easier for parents who do sit around reading medical studies, because it’s really stressful to read a New York Times article about how new studies indicate peanut exposure is good, but then to go to an official website like that of the NIH and see recommendatios to do the opposite.