Recent research suggests that consuming peanuts while you are pregnant or breastfeeding will not lead to the development of peanut allergy in your baby–in fact, it might help protect against it. However, if a mother has a strong family history of allergic disease, she might be encouraged to follow certain guidelines in an effort to limit the onset and reduce the severity of allergic symptoms in her baby.
The importance of breastfeeding for all moms and babies cannot be overstated. While breastfeeding will not prevent the occurrence of allergic disease in babies, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for at least the first year may delay the onset of allergic symptoms (gas, diarrhea, vomiting, fussiness, and skin rashes) and reduce their severity.
Parents of babies at-risk of peanut allergy have long been cautioned not to introduce solid foods too soon. However, recent studies suggest that delaying the introduction of foods other than human milk beyond six months may actually increase the risk for allergic disease. It appears that when the immune system is exposed to foreign proteins (antigens) during a specific time period (not too early, not too late), a tolerance to the antigens rather than sensitivity may actually develop.
For parents who wish to reduce their child’s risk of peanut allergy, experts recommend the following:
- If the infant has no known risk of peanut allergy (no eczema, no diagnosed food allergy), or has only mild-to-moderate eczema, parents can talk with their infant’s pediatrician about introducing peanut-containing foods at around 6 months of age.
- If the infant has risk factors like severe eczema or an egg allergy, the pediatrician may recommend skin-prick testing before introduction of peanut-containing foods. Infants with no reaction may be started on a diet that includes small amounts of peanut. Those with a mild reaction may try a “food challenge,” with a pediatrician or allergist giving the infant a small amount of a peanut-containing food and watching closely for any reaction. Children without a reaction may be started on peanut-containing foods.
Because our understanding of allergic disease is constantly changing, mothers of high-risk babies (especially those with eczema or other skin conditions, and/or egg allergy) should talk with their baby's doctor before introducing any foods other than human milk.
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