Figuring out how and when to advance your baby’s diet can be confusing and scary. This is especially true when it comes to foods known to cause serious, even life-threatening, reactions in some people. Peanuts and peanut-based foods top the list of potentially worrisome foods for many parents.
Newer studies suggest that it’s not only okay but actually advisable to start introducing peanuts and peanut-based items to babies as young as four months old provided they’ve been evaluated by an allergy specialist first to confirm that a peanut allergy isn’t already present. Studies done and published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that introducing peanuts to younger children can actually significantly decrease the chances of them developing peanut allergies later. This seems to be especially true for babies with severe eczema or egg allergies, as these conditions are known to increase a child’s risk for developing peanut allergies. If your child doesn’t have any known risk factors for developing peanut or other food allergies, it won’t hurt to introduce peanuts, but it also won’t hurt if you wait until they’re older. This new advice goes against the older recommendation to avoid giving children peanuts or peanut products until they were toddlers, especially in the cases of children with known risk factors or a family history. It was originally thought that waiting until the child was older offered a better chance at avoiding the development of allergies, but more recent and more comprehensive studies have found the opposite to be true.
Another reason most experts recommended delaying introduction of peanuts until the toddler years was to minimize the chance of an allergic reaction being fatal to children born with an allergy to peanuts. This is why it’s important to have your child screened for allergies before introducing them to potential allergens. Though there is increasing evidence that food allergies are more often developed during early childhood than present at birth, there isn’t enough hard evidence to suggest that food allergies cannot be present at birth.
When it comes to figuring out how to introduce peanuts to your child, it’s still wise to avoid giving whole peanuts to children 5 or younger because of the choking hazard they represent. Obviously, you also shouldn’t give any baby who doesn’t yet have teeth anything that requires chewing. Even straight peanut butter can be problematic for babies and younger toddlers because of how thick and sticky it is. You can dilute smooth peanut butter with some warm water to create a puree for your baby or new toddler. If it’s the first time your child is having peanut butter, monitor him for about 10 minutes after the first spoonful just to make sure he shows no signs of an adverse reaction like a rash, hives, or anything that resembles trouble breathing. If he does show any signs of a reaction, don’t give him any more of the peanut butter puree or anything else containing peanuts until consulting your pediatrician. Obviously, if your child shows any signs of respiratory (breathing) distress, take him to the nearest ER for evaluation and treatment.