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New Guidelines Recommend When To Introduce Peanuts To Babies


Forget what you think you might know about peanut allergies. Federal health experts released new guidelines today for parents of young children. They draw on research that shows there is a benefit to introducing peanuts during a baby's first year. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The guidance on peanuts has come full circle over the past two decades. Back in 2000, as the prevalence of peanut allergies seemed to be on the rise, parents of infants were told to hold off on introducing peanuts sometimes until the toddler years, especially if there was a family history of allergies.

The new guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are based on the findings of more recent studies. Allergist Matthew Greenhawt of Children's Hospital Colorado helped develop them.

MATTHEW GREENHAWT: Now we're saying introduce peanut to your child as early as 4 to 6 months of life. And by doing so, it's associated with a reduced likelihood of developing peanut allergy.

AUBREY: This is in stark contrast to the old thinking that early exposure to peanuts increased the risk of developing an allergy. But over the last few years, several large studies have found that babies at high risk of becoming allergic to peanuts are much less likely to develop an allergy if they are regularly fed peanut-containing foods in the first year of life.

Greenhawt says parents should not worry that these guidelines might flip flop again. He says the new evidence supporting early introduction is very strong.

GREENHAWT: We wouldn't change these guidelines if we didn't feel that this was safe. So parents should rest assured that it's based on very, very cutting-edge science.

AUBREY: And some doctors have already changed the way they treat infants at risk of having a peanut allergy. These are babies who are brought in with severe eczema or egg allergy, the two big risk factors for a peanut allergy. Hugh Sampson is a professor of pediatrics and an allergy specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

HUGH SAMPSON: We've taken the approach that if you have a child that has severe eczema or that has egg allergy, that we should try to introduce peanut preferably in the first four to six months of life.

AUBREY: What's important to note is that according to the new guidelines, these high-risk kids who have persistent eczema and other risk factors should be evaluated by an allergy specialist before their parents or caregivers introduce them to peanut-containing foods at home. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.