August 7, 2019

Preventing Peanut Allergies

Exposing infants to peanut proteins early is a good way to reduce their risk of an allergic reaction. Here's how to do it.

Peanut allergies can be life-threatening, and parents are understandably cautious about giving their children peanuts for the first time. Guidance for parents on how to introduce peanuts to infants has changed over the years, but a new study suggests that introducing peanut products to babies early in life may prevent the development of peanut allergy.

One of the most common food allergies, peanut allergy is a leading cause of allergy-related death among children and affects about a fourth of children in the U.S. who have a food allergy. It is rare that a child will outgrow it. The incidence of peanut allergy has increased over the past 15 years.

Peanuts can be finely ground and added to other foods, or peanut butter can be thinned with hot water to make a puree to feed the baby with a spoon.

To sort out the changing information that parents have read or been told about feeding peanuts to their babies, the Canadian Medical Association has released key points about introducing peanuts to babies.

Babies who are regularly fed peanut protein are less likely to develop a peanut allergy, according to the study. Peanut protein, in the form of peanut butter or a puff made from peanut flour, can be given to babies as a first food when they are between the ages of four and six months old. The group suggests babies eat roughly eight grams of peanut protein at least twice a week, about a heaped teaspoon of peanut butter, to reduce the risk of a baby developing peanut allergy.

Infants with severe eczema are more likely to have a peanut allergy, however; they should not be fed peanuts. Babies with mild eczema or no eczema can be introduced to peanuts.

Caution should be taken with infants who have other risk factors for peanut allergy, such as an allergic reaction to eggs. These babies should be assessed by a specialist before they are fed peanuts.

Babies should not be fed whole peanuts because they are a choking hazard. Even peanut butter can be dangerous because it is thick and sticky. Peanuts can be finely ground and added to other foods, or peanut butter can be thinned with hot water to make a puree to feed the baby with a spoon.

After a baby is fed peanuts, parents should be on the lookout for signs of an allergic reaction. These include, but are not limited to, hives, rash, coughing, difficulty breathing, redness around the mouth or swelling of the lips. Babies who show signs of allergy need medical attention. Even a mild reaction the first time could result in a potentially life-threatening reaction the next time a child eats peanuts.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
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