How to Introduce Peanuts into Your Baby’s Diet
With the dramatic increase of peanut allergy incidence in children in recent years, pediatricians had begun to recommend that parents avoid feeding their young babies peanuts until their immune systems matured. Taking care of new babies can be stressful enough without adding the possibility of a potentially life threatening allergic reaction to the mix. However, scientific research has helped doctors realize that it may actually be a bad idea to wait to feed babies peanuts because without peanut exposure, the immune system may be more likely to mistake peanuts for harmful substances. On the other hand, if babies consume peanuts, or the proteins contained in peanuts, from a young age, their immune systems may learn to recognize those elements as harmless and therefore not react upon subsequent exposure.
Scientists have confirmed this idea of the immune system learning to recognize peanuts as non-threatening with studies showing that babies who are exposed to high levels of peanut proteins before they are 9 months old are less likely to develop peanut allergies than those whose parents avoided giving them peanuts until later in life. These findings have helped shed light on why Israeli children, who are known to often be fed Bamba, a popular Israeli snack, have also been found to suffer from peanut allergies 10 times more frequently than Jewish children growing up in the United Kingdom.
With this new evidence for the appropriate age at which to give babies peanuts comes the question: when and how exactly should we be feeding our babies peanuts? Though we may now want to expose young babies to peanuts, there are challenges related to doing so, particularly because babies cannot safely eat whole peanuts because their combination of size and hardness presents a choking hazard. Even creamy peanut butter can be difficult for infants to eat before they are 10 months old. Nonetheless, peanut butter is one way many parents start exposing their babies to peanut proteins, with, for example, a thin layer of peanut butter on toast or on a cracker.
However, as sticky products can be hard for babies to chew and swallow, babies eating peanut butter should be closely monitored. Even easier than creamy peanut butter is powdered peanut butter, which can mixed into other things, such as yogurt, that babies are already eating and that are easier for them to eat than creamy peanut butter. Ground nuts can also be used as a substitute for part of the flour used when baking. However, for those who prefer to use creamy peanut butter, it can also be mixed into yogurt, cereal, and applesauce and should be safe for babies, as long as it is not too thick.
It is generally good practice to first introduce peanuts to your baby during the day so that there is time to monitor the baby for any reaction that may occur. An upset stomach, leading to diarrhea or vomiting can be a sign of allergy, as can a skin rash or hives, or an abnormal level or amount of fussiness. In addition, feeding your baby a small amount of peanut products at first and gradually increasing the amount is a good way to prevent a significant reaction. Research suggests that feeding infants more than 2 grams of peanut proteins each week, which amounts to about 7 whole peanuts per week, is associated with more than a 90% reduction in the chance of developing peanut allergies.
Though there are a number of benefits to introducing peanuts early in a baby’s life, the likelihood of a peanut allergy should be considered before starting babies on peanuts. Babies who have peanut allergies in the family, who suffer from eczema, or who have already been found to have food allergies are at a higher risk for peanut allergies. Parents of these babies should discuss the introduction of peanut products with their pediatricians. Luckily, physicians just met at the annual Americal College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology conference to determine federal guidelines about how and when to introduce peanuts to infants, and those guidelines will be officially developed with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and released in early 2017. At that point, there will be more clear information and specific recommendations on how exactly to go about providing your infant with peanut proteins