For years, parents have been told to wait before introducing a baby to peanut-based foods, but that’s changing in a big way.
Now, experts recommend babies get their first taste of peanut products as early as four months of age.
The National Institutes of Health released new guidelines Thursday recommending giving infants peanut-based foods early, rather than waiting, to try head off a potentially severe peanut allergy.
"A food allergy very challenging,” says Dr. Kevin Rodbell of Atlanta’s Sage Hill Pediatrics. “There is nothing easy about it."
Dr. Rodbell knows because he has several children of his own with food allergies.
The new guidelines were influenced by a major 2015 research study that compared 600 babies.
Half strictly avoided peanut products until their first birthday, the other half ate them regularly starting at about 4 to 6 months of age.
"They followed these kids closely,” says Dr. Rodbell. “And, whether there was a family history of allergies or not, the kids who waited, and avoided peanuts, were three times as likely to have food allergies, or allergy to peanuts, than the kids who had early introduction."
But how should parents get started?
Under the new guidelines, babies should try solid foods first before trying peanut-containing foods.
Allergy experts recommend steering clear of peanut butter and whole peanuts, which can cause a baby to choke.
Instead, they say, focus on infant-friendly foods like “Bamba” or peanut-flavored puffs that are easy for babies to gum.
You can also use watered-down peanut butter mixed into foods.
If you have a high risk infant, start introducing peanut-based foods as early as 4-to-6 months, experts say.
But, check with your pediatrician or pediatric allergist first about how to do that.
"If a child has a family history of allergies, like the parents have an allergy, or a sibling has an allergy, they may want to consider doing this introduction in the doctor's office,” says Dr. Rodbell. “If a child has a lot of allergies already, then we should definitely consider testing before we try peanuts."
Under the guidelines, if your baby is at low or mild risk of a peanut allergy, start exposing the child gradually to peanut products beginning at 6 months of age.
Experts say you want to gradually build up the infant’s tolerance by serving small amounts of peanut-based foods about 3 times a week.
Dr. Rodbell says proceed carefully, and ask for help if you need it.
"But the fact is we can avoid 2 out of 3 peanut allergies, simply by introducing it early."