I say this as a sufferer: Peanut allergies are the worst. I learned I was allergic to peanuts when I was 13 years old, and although my allergy isn’t severe, I choose not to bring peanuts or peanut products into my house. As a result, I was unable to expose my son to peanuts earlier in his life.
I’m hardly alone though. While the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommends parents give their babies peanut-based pureed or finger food before six months as a way to avoid life-threatening peanut allergies, many mamas still don’t.
A new study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that a majority of new moms and moms-to-be surveyed are still hesitant to follow the guidelines. Some were even unfamiliar with the Institute’s recommendations in the first place (they were released and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics in January 2017).
"Since early peanut introduction is a relatively new idea, we were not surprised to find that more than half of those surveyed said following the guidelines was of no or limited importance," says the study’s lead author Matthew Greenhawt, an allergist and chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s Food Allergy Committee.
To be exact, 53% of respondents said they were wary of recommendations to try early peanut introduction, according to the survey results. Researchers also discovered that, overall, 61% of women surveyed said they weren’t that concerned with their child developing a food allergy. Only 31% of participants said they would be willing to try early introduction, the survey found.
About 3 million people in the United States have an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts. In fact, a peanut allergy is the most common allergy among food allergic children, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. The NIAID says early exposure to peanuts could significantly decrease the chances of your baby developing a nut allergy, which prompted the Institute to issue its new guidelines last year.
"The new guidelines are a breakthrough for preventing peanut allergy," says co-author Edmond Chan, an allergist and ACAAI member. "But we're still working on helping parents and pediatricians understand how important the guidelines are for preventing peanut allergies. Food allergies are scary, so it's understandable that parents would hesitate to introduce a food they might see as dangerous.”
According to the guidelines, parents of babies who are at low risk developing peanut allergies are encouraged to try peanuts at home, while babies at high risk for a peanut allergy (those who have severe eczema or an egg allergy) should have peanut skin testing first, and depending on the results they can try peanuts as an oral food challenge at their specialist’s office.
As someone with a peanut allergy, I totally get why parents would hold off on introducing legumes at such an early age. But there’s evidence to show that early introduction can have tremendous benefits in the long-term. Eat up.