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Though parents have long been told to avoid giving peanuts to babies and toddlers, new national health guidelines call for a major reversal of that advice. Parents should instead give children foods containing peanuts early and often--starting when they’re infants--as a way to help avoid life-threatening peanut allergies, according to a new report by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Published Thursday, the new guidelines recommend giving babies puréed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract before they are 6 months old, and even earlier if a child is prone to allergies and doctors say it is safe to do so.
It appears there “is a window of time in which the body is more likely to tolerate a food than react to it, and if you can educate the body during that window, you’re at much lower likelihood of developing an allergy to that food,” said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, chairman of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s food allergy committee and one of the authors of the new guidelines.
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As recently as 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics had warned parents to withhold peanuts from children at high risk for allergies until they were 3 years old. Yet the number of peanut allergies kept increasing (in 2010, around 2 percent of children in the United States had the allergy) and several studies sought to challenge the advice.
If used by enough parents, the new guidelines have the potential to dramatically lower the number of children who develop peanut allergies, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the institute’s director. He called the new approach “game-changing.”
“If we can put this into practice over a period of several years, I would be surprised if we would not see a dramatic decrease in the incidence of peanut allergies,” Dr. Fauci said.
Low-risk infants (who don’t have eczema or an egg allergy and who have started solid foods) and moderate risk (those with mild eczema) can be introduced to peanut-containing foods around 6 months at home by their parents, according to the new guidelines. High-risk infants (who have severe eczema or an egg allergy) can begin as early as 4 to 6 months, after they start other solid foods and are evaluated by a doctor for safety.
Parents should never give a baby whole peanuts, which are a choking hazard. It’s also important to continue feeding the peanut-containing food regularly, aiming for three times a week through childhood, according to the New York Times.
Though deaths are extremely rare, children who develop a peanut allergy generally do not outgrow it and must be vigilant to avoid peanuts for the rest of their lives.
Share the important news with all the parents and grandparents of young children in your life--as well as with any pregnant women who might be planning for the future.