There's so much to consider the first year of your baby's life and plenty to stress about, and we know that introducing peanuts and other allergens tops the list for many parents. The biggest worry, of course, is the looming possibility that your baby will react to an allergen.
Our co-founder Lauren's oldest child has several allergies. She has first hand experience of giving him an EpiPen which is not any parent's idea of a fun time.
However, we're going to let you in on a bit of a secret. Introducing peanuts and other allergens to your baby isn't as complicated as you think. All you need is common sense and a little bit of preparation.
Initial considerations for introducing peanut allergens to your baby.
First off, introduce allergens in a familiar place when you have another adult there for backup. Don't give your baby peanuts while camping in the woods without cell reception or while wrangling a herd of toddlers alone in a home. Common sense, right?
It's a good idea to prepare ahead of time for the unlikely event your little one experiences an allergic reaction. Keep an antihistamine on hand and know the proper dose for your baby. The amount is determined by your baby's weight, so this is a good question for your pediatrician.
Antihistamines help diminish an allergic reaction after it has occurred. The most commonly known brand is Benadryl. However, our favorite antihistamine is Genexa's Kid's Allergy. It's made with the same active ingredient as children's Benadryl without the artificial inactive ingredients.
Introduce allergens early in the day because allergic reactions may take up to four hours to appear. Note that anaphylaxis almost always happens immediately.
Some facts about peanut allergies.
Peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts! Peanut allergies affect about 2% of children. Unlike other common childhood food allergies, like milk and eggs, many kids do not grow out of peanut allergies. For 80% of people, peanut allergies are lifelong.
Peanuts are also very likely to cause an anaphylactic reaction, the most severe type of allergic reaction. Anaphylactic reactions cause the throat to swell, making it difficult to breathe. Less severe reactions to a peanut allergy include wheezing, shortness of breath, digestive problems, skin rashes, or hives in the mouth and throat. If your little one complains that their mouth feels "funny" or "itchy" after eating peanuts, it's likely an allergic reaction.
Note that conditions like severe eczema, an egg allergy, or both increase the risk of a peanut allergy in children.
When should I start thinking about introducing peanuts?
For years doctors advised parents to keep peanut products away from children thought to be at high risk for allergies. This changed due to a breakthrough study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP).
In this study, babies between four and eleven months old who were considered high risk for developing a peanut allergy were divided into two random study groups. The first group of babies was given peanut foods early and often. The second group avoided peanuts until the age of five. The study found that children who had peanuts early and often were significantly less likely to develop a peanut allergy.
It turns out that the same is true of all allergens. So, when it comes to introducing allergens to babies early and often is the best approach. We recommend feeding your child allergens at least once a week until they have tolerated it ten or more times. It is important to test common allergens repetitively and not assume that your little one is allergy-free because they've eaten something once or twice.
The new guidelines advocate introducing babies at high risk of developing allergies as early as four months old. For babies with a low risk of developing allergies, around six months is an excellent time to introduce allergens.
The first step is always determining if your baby is developmentally ready to start eating solid foods. When your baby is ready to eat solid foods is the ideal time to consult with your pediatrician about introducing allergens.
How do I give peanuts to my baby?
We love this question because we actually think giving peanuts is super easy!
We don't believe you need a weird manufactured powder to introduce allergens to your little ones. As always, we advocate for using real food as much as possible. And the great thing is there are so many great ways for your little one to enjoy a little bit of peanut butter.
Some of these involve other allergens, so make sure your little one has eaten and tolerated those several times before mixing allergens or adding in peanuts.
Here are some of our favorite ways to introduce allergens. The ones in purple are good for the first introduction.
- Mix some peanut butter into no added sugar, whole fat plain greek yogurt.
- Spread peanut butter on toast, pancakes, or an English muffin.
- Mix peanut butter into oatmeal. Both peanut butter and peanut flour work well for this. We use about a ½ teaspoon per serving of oatmeal for babies under six months old.
- Slice a banana into two long pieces and spread some peanut butter in the middle, making a PB & banana sandwich.
- Make peanut butter quesadillas by spreading a thin amount of peanut butter on a tortilla, folding it in half, and lightly cooking it on both sides in an oil-coated pan. Cut it into long strips for babies older than nine months or small squares for younger babies.
- Make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, cut into strips or squares.
- Puree a spoonful of peanut butter with some fruit like banana, blueberries, or strawberries to thin it out, and feed it to your baby with a spoon.
What do I do if I think my baby has an allergic reaction?
The chances of your little one having an allergic reaction are tiny. Nonetheless, it's almost impossible not to worry about it happening.
Again be sure to ask your pediatrician about your child's correct dose of antihistamine before you start testing foods. It will give you peace of mind.
If you think your little one is having an allergic reaction, administer the appropriate dose of antihistamine and call your doctor. If your child vomits, has swelling around their lips, face, or eyes, or has trouble breathing, call 911.
This outcome is improbable, but it's essential to know this practical information.
We want our kids to like the food we feed them, right? So again we recommend introducing allergens with wholesome natural food kids enjoy eating.
And remember, the most important thing when introducing allergens is early and often. This will reduce the chances of an allergy developing and help foster healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
From our families to yours
Joana + Lauren