Experts say early exposure of baby to food may help prevent allergies



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New parents worry about a lot of things, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says one thing they can cross with this list is concern about giving highly allergenic foods too early in life.

In fact, the pediatric group says that it is better to introduce foods like peanut butter when children are about 6 months old.

"There is no reason to restrict the early introduction of allergenic foods," said a co-author of a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Frank Greer. He is professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Although experts have advised parents in the past to avoid highly allergenic foods early in life, more recent research has suggested that early exposure to these foods may be a better option.

In addition to releasing parents for their children to try peanut butter or ground peanuts at an early age, the report also said that mothers do not need to restrict their diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding to try to avoid allergies.

The report recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first three to four months of life to help protect against allergic skin eczema. Breastfeeding after three or four months (even if not done exclusively) may also provide some protection against wheezing in the first two years of life and against asthma for an even longer period of time.

For parents who use formulas, AAP has good news for your wallet. Using formulas for hydrolyzed babies does not seem to help prevent allergies. And this is true even in families with a history of allergies.

The most common foods that cause allergies include cow's milk, eggs, clams, nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy, according to the AAP. As early as 2008, the AAP concluded that there was no convincing evidence that delaying the introduction of these foods could prevent allergies.

The new report highlights new studies that have shown that the early introduction of these foods can help prevent allergies. The report suggests the introduction of peanut protein from 4 months to 6 months of age. (Whole peanuts are not recommended because they are considered a choking hazard until the child is 4 years old.)

Immune system needs to be emphasized

Dr. Jennifer Appleyard, head of allergy and immunology at St. John's Hospital in Detroit, said: "The old thought was that the immune system was so disordered in the first three years of life that it could not handle allergic food. "The thought is that the immune system needs to be stressed – let the children get dirty, let them have pets, let them eat certain foods. Maybe protecting them from everything is not such a good thing. "

Greer explained that "allergies only increased as we became ever cleaner. We are not bombarding the human system with antigens." This means that the immune system does not have a chance to learn to react normally to substances that are not harmful, such as peanuts or pet dander.

Appleyard pointed out a significant caveat of the new report: "The report says the available data still limit the ability to draw firm conclusions, so none of this is definitive."

And this is important because parents of children with severe allergies may wonder if they could have done something to prevent their child's allergies.

She said that parents should not feel guilty for child allergies, especially when they are just following the standard advice of the time. And even when children get peanuts or eggs, or other allergic food at first, some still develop an allergy.

"Just because you introduce peanuts at a given time does not guarantee that your child will not have a peanut allergy.This is just the current thinking.And even though you can tolerate peanuts at 6 months or one year of age, you can still have one reaction later in life, "she warned.

The AAP said that if children have severe eczema that requires prescription treatments or if they have a known egg allergy, testing for a peanut allergy before introducing food with peanuts is something that can be considered. In this same group of children, the introduction of peanut-based foods under the supervision of a health professional is also something else that can be considered, the AAP said.

But Greer said that in most cases, testing is not necessary.

The report was published online March 18 Pediatrics.

Image Credit: iStock

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