Parents, forget what you might have heard. Your babies, once they are eating food at about 6 months, can have any type of food they want — even items with peanut products.
A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine tried to figure out why the occurrence of peanut allergies has doubled in the last 10 years and why Jewish children in the United Kingdom had 10 times the rate of peanut allergies than their counterparts in Israel. What they suspected was a cultural difference in diet. Infants in Israel typically are introduced to peanut products around seven months. Kids in the UK (and the United States) were not exposed until after their first birthday because of a change in the guidelines that happened in the U.S. in 2000 and in the U.K. in 1998. Even though those changes and many like them for strawberries, shellfish and egg whites were withdrawn in 2008, many parents were still following the 1998 or 2000 guidelines.
This new study confirmed the suspicion that if you give infants peanut products like peanut butter (not whole peanuts because of the choking hazard) rather than delaying introducing peanut products, you could decrease the allergy rate by 80 percent.
The study enrolled more than 600 infants ages four months to 11 months who had an egg allergy or severe eczema or both. Half were regularly given a snack food with peanut butter, the other half were told to avoid peanut products. They studied these kids until they turned 5 and then tested to see if they had a peanut allergy. Researchers found that 13.7 percent of the kids who weren’t exposed to peanuts had a a peanut allergy, but only and 1.9 percent of the kids who were given the snack food were allergic to peanuts.
This is the first study that confirms what doctors had suspected, says Dr. Bradley Berg, medical director of pediatrics at Scott & White Hospital in Round Rock. “If you give them peanut butter earlier, the body sees it and incorporates it into the immune system,” he says. They don’t develop the allergic reaction.
He does recommend that you start slowly with peanuts or eggs. First give them a lick off a spoon or a bite off your plate. Then give a pea size amount for a day or two, move up to half a teaspoon and then stop worrying about how much you’re giving.
A reaction will typically look like lip swelling, or hives (which are raised welts on the body that look like mosquito bites) or vomitting (not just spit up but emptying the contents of their stomach), says Dr. Elizabeth Knapp, a pediatrician with Austin Regional Clinic.
If that happens, you would call your doctor. She might want to test for allergies or send you to an allergist.
There isn’t an order as to which foods to introduce first, though most doctors still recommend cereal to start because of its convenience and parents’ ability to gradually thicken it by decreasing the amount of formula or breast milk mixed in as kids get more and more used to eating.
Typically kids lose the tongue thrust reflex between four and six months, which is when parents can then start them on food. Before that time, babies will just push the spoon away with their tongues and parents won’t be successful at getting food in. Typically, kids also will start becoming interested in parents’ food around this time and watching parents eat, Berg says.
If you had heard that babies should have vegetables before fruits, you can ignore that. You also can ignore the idea that babies shouldn’t have meat.
Knapp does recommend introducing new foods that might be an allergen like peanut butter in the morning on a day when the parents will be around to watch their babies. Don’t give it to them at bedtime when they are about to go to sleep or on a day, when parents are sending them off to day care, she recommends.
The only thing parents should wait to introduce until after babies turn 1 is whole milk. Dairy products are fine, but whole milk has too much iron for babies to process, Berg says.
The more different foods parents are introducing, Knapp says, the more they’ll ensuring that kids don’t get stuck in the one- or two-foods only rut that sometimes happens during the toddler years.