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Eating Peanuts While Breastfeeding Could Protect Kids from Developing Allergies, Study Says

Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.

mother nursing baby
Image source: Thinkstock

Having a child with a food allergy can be a terrifying experience, especially if your child’s allergy is life-threatening. According to CMAJ, a Canadian medical journal, 3-4 percent of kids have food allergies. And between 1997-2007, the incidences of food allergies in the U.S. have risen by 18 percent. This is a pretty a scary trend if you ask me.

Medical experts suggest that the steep increase in food allergies means that prevention is the key, but prevention can prove confusing for new parents when guidelines for allergen introduction seem to be constantly changing. In January of this year, for example, the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) changed its guidelines to recommend that babies without eczema or food allergy and who are not at increased risk, be introduced to peanuts when they begin solids. For babies who have severe eczema or an egg allergy, peanut introduction is recommended as early as 4-6 months of age (with doctor supervision, of course).

Yes, my jaw dropped to the floor when I heard that, especially since my kids’ pediatrician recommended I wait three years to introduce peanuts to my kids. I ended up waiting until my children were 12 months old, with my doctor’s approval. Suffice it to say, all of the data out there can get pretty bewildering when all parents want is to have a healthy child, who hopefully doesn’t have to deal with a life-threatening food allergy.

A new study might offer parents a simpler and more effective way to protect their kids from allergies — and it doesn’t involve grinding peanuts into a puree to serve to your baby. The study published in the September issue of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggests moms who eat peanuts while breastfeeding may offer their babies some much-needed protection against future peanut allergies.

So how would this work exactly? Well, the idea is that kids who are introduced to allergens early, are better able to build a tolerance to the allergen. The small amount of allergen contained in breast milk might be just the right dose.

In the study, researchers monitored the diets of 545 children over a seven year period, collecting data on maternal and infant consumption of peanuts. At age 7, the kids were tested for peanut allergies and found that children whose moms ate peanuts while breastfeeding had the lowest incidence of peanut allergies. These children also were introduced to peanuts in their own diet before 12 months of age.

Pretty astounding, right? And the striking thing is that the incidence of peanut allergy rose significantly in kids whose moms didn’t eat peanuts while breastfeeding, or who weren’t exposed to peanuts before 12 months old.

For further clarification about the study, Babble caught up with pediatrician and certified lactation counselor, Sylvia Romm, who is also the medical director of American Well. Dr. Romm says that overall, the trend is to introduce babies to allergens on the early side. “The cause of food allergies is still poorly understood, however evidence is trending towards early lifetime exposure to potential allergens as protective against future allergies,” she explained.

Dr. Romm says that in most cases, allergens should be introduced to babies at the same time they start solid food. “I would recommend that mothers and babies with no family history of food allergies should introduce potentially allergenic foods at the same time that the parents and the pediatrician decide that the baby is ready to eat other solid foods,” she tells Babble.

As for the specifics of the new study, Dr. Romm concurs that consuming peanuts and other allergens while breastfeeding may have a protective effect for infants in terms of peanut allergies, as well as food allergies across the board. “The breastfeeding mother should feel free to eat a varied diet that includes foods such as peanuts, eggs, and milk.”

If you are a breastfeeding mom with a known family history of food allergies, Dr. Romm recommends consulting with your baby’s pediatrician in terms of what allergens to consume. But in general, consuming allergens should not be an issue — and in most cases, will provide an additional benefit in terms of allergy protection.

“If there is a family history of any food allergies, then it’s best if the parents consult a physician before deciding to eliminate foods from the mother or baby’s diet,” says Dr. Romm. “For some families, a controlled introduction of foods, such as peanuts through breast milk or direct ingestion may actually prevent a peanut allergy later on.”

Of course, as Dr. Romm explains, parents should always consult with their doctors on their particular case. But the good news is that breastfeeding has yet another added protection for our babies. And the added bonus is that in most cases, breastfeeding moms should feel free dig into all the peanut products they want. So bring on the PB & J’s and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! On second thought, maybe I’ll just spoon the peanut butter right out of the jar.

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