The latest on a simple way to help prevent food allergies in kids

Want to prevent your child from being allergic to peanuts or eggs? Here’s what the latest research says you should do:

Feed them peanut products and eggs when they are babies.

I’ve been a pediatrician for more than 25 years, and the standard advice I gave families for years — advice recommended by allergy specialists — was to hold off on giving babies foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. I told them not to give egg, dairy, seafood, or wheat in their child’s first year — and to wait until 2 or 3 years old to give peanuts or other nut products.

That was bad advice.

A few years ago, research began to suggest that there was no particular benefit to waiting to give those foods. Children seemed to develop food allergies whether their parents waited or not. And then a year ago, a really remarkable study  showed that giving babies peanut products earlier in life made it less likely that they would develop a peanut allergy.

Basically, we had it backwards.

new study just released in The New England Journal of Medicine confirms last year’s study. The study involved more than 1,000 exclusively breastfed 3-month-old babies who were divided up into two groups. The parents of one group were told to give the babies only breast milk for six months, as has traditionally been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The parents of the other group were told to give the babies six foods that often cause allergic reactions: peanut products, eggs, wheat, cow’s milk, sesame, and whitefish. Less than half of these parents were able to pull that off (little babies aren’t always excited about eating these foods), but among those that did — or at least tried — fewer children ended up with peanut or egg allergy when tested between ages 1 and 3 years.

The researchers didn’t find decreases in allergies to the other foods, but — this is important — they didn’t find increases, either. Giving those foods was safe.

Another study released with this one showed that if you stop giving peanut products to children who were given them as babies, the children don’t get allergic reactions when they start eating peanuts again. Truly, it does seem like those early foods can make a lifelong difference.

Now, there’s lots more we need to study and understand — like how much babies need to eat to prevent allergy (in this study, it was only about 2g per week of peanut or egg white, which is not very much), or for which foods this works. But given that food allergies affect approximately 15 million Americans, including one in 13 children, it is exciting news.

There are a couple of important safety caveats:

  • Parents should not give these foods to their babies if there are any known or suspected food allergies. It’s not always possible to know if your baby has an allergy, but if he or she has eczema or blood in the stool, or has had vomiting, rashes, or fussiness after eating anything, you should absolutely talk to your doctor before starting any solid foods. You should also get your doctor’s advice if either parent or a sibling has food allergies.
  • Don’t ever give babies or toddlers actual peanuts — or anything else they might choke on. The researchers in these studies used a snack meant for babies that is made with peanuts. You can put some smooth (not chunky!) peanut butter on your finger and give it to your baby, or mix it (or a sauce made with it) into other foods, or bake it into a soft bread. Eggs are easy to mix or bake into things, and small soft pieces of cooked eggs are fine for babies. There are lots of safe ways to introduce these foods without giving anything hard or in large pieces. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure how to do it.

I feel bad about the bad advice all of us gave for years — if only we had known! But now we do know. It’s time to spread the word — and the peanut butter.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 NIV

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Proverbs 27:19 NIV

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 NIV

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4 NIV

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 | NIV

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 NIV

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 NIV

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 NIV

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV

The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:8 NIV

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. Psalm 119:10 NIV

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24 NIV

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NIV

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. Psalm 119:7 NIV

Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. Psalm 119:2 NIV

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Mark 11:23 NIV

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