Introducing allergens like peanuts and eggs to your baby early on may help lower the risk for allergies. Here are some easy ways to do it.
Want to really freak out your mother-in-law? Tell her you're mixing peanut butter into your six-month-old's cereal. New moms used to be warned to avoid foods like peanut, fish, and egg completely until the toddler or even preschooler years for fear of allergic reactions. Now moms and dads are actively encouraged to introduce these foods early in hopes of preventing food allergies. And some companies are making that easy for you to do.
It's now understood that delaying the introduction of certain foods doesn't reduce a child's risk for food allergies, says Frank Greer, MD, a neonatologist in Madison, Wisconsin and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, introducing them early has been shown to cut the chances of allergy. The now-famous LEAP study found that babies had a lower incidence of developing a peanut allergy if they were given peanut protein instead of avoiding it. In other research called the EAT study, feeding egg early was found to help prevent an allergy too.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) says that highly allergic foods including dairy products, egg, soy, wheat, peanut and tree nuts (in the form of powder or butter, not whole nuts), and fish and shellfish can be given to your baby between 4-6 months. There are lots of ways to serve these foods to your baby, like feeding him pureed fish or spreading a thin smear of peanut butter on her teething biscuit. But there are a few new products on the market that make it even easier for parents:
Peanut powder & puffs: Whole nuts or globs of peanut butter are choking hazards for babies and should be avoided. An easy alternative for introducing peanut protein is peanut powder, which can be mixed with things like breastmilk and yogurt. Bamba puffs are an Israeli snack that easily dissolves and can be given as a finger food. You may spot a health claim on some infant foods containing peanuts that states "introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age."
Specially formulated baby food: Inspired Start is a baby food that introduces eight common allergens including eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. The pouches contain a small amount of allergen protein blended with an organic fruit puree.
Powder mix-ins: SpoonfulOne is a powder that you mix in to your baby's food. Each packet contains a very small amount of protein from peanuts, milk, eggs, almonds, soy, wheat, shrimp, cashews, hazelnuts, oat, cod, pecans, salmon, sesame, walnuts, and pistachios, plus some vitamin D.
A few cautions from the AAAAI:
- If your family has a history of food allergy, you suspect your child has a food allergy, or your baby has eczema, talk to your pediatrician before introducing highly allergenic foods. In some cases, you may be advised to have your baby tested for allergies first or to give the first feeding in a healthcare setting. (RELATED: 8 Signs of a Serious Allergic Reaction)
- Introduce allergenic foods at home, not away from home at day care or at a restaurant, for instance.
- Wait until your baby has been introduced to a few solid foods and has tolerated them well before offering an allergenic food.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.