In a significant reversal from past advice, new health guidelines in the US call for parents to give their children foods containing peanuts early and often, starting when they're infants, as a way to help avoid life-threatening peanut allergies.
The guidelines, issued on Thursday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommend giving babies pureed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract before they are 6 months old, and earlier if a child is prone to allergies and doctors say it is safe to do so.
One should never give a baby whole peanuts or peanut bits, experts say, because they can be a choking hazard.
If broadly implemented, the guidelines have the potential to dramatically lower the number of children who develop one of the most common and lethal food allergies, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the institute's director.
Peanut allergies are responsible for more deaths from anaphylaxis, or constriction of the airways, than any other food allergy. Though deaths are extremely rare, children who develop a peanut allergy generally do not outgrow it.
The guidelines, published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and several other journals, represent an about-face from the advice given out by the American Academy of Pediatrics as recently as 2000, when parents were told to withhold peanuts from children at high risk for allergies until they were 3 years old.
Despite those recommendations, the prevalence of peanut allergies kept increasing.
The new guidelines grow out of several studies conducted in recent years that challenged the advice to ban peanuts in infancy.
One way to introduce your baby to peanuts safely is to mix a couple of teaspoons of smooth peanut butter with a couple of teaspoons of warm water and stir until it has a smooth soupy or puree-like consistency, suggested Dr J. Andrew Bird, paediatric allergist with UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children's Medical Center in Dallas, who wrote a paper on the subject.
Foods containing peanuts should not be the first solid a baby eats, experts said. It's also important to continue feeding the peanut-containing food regularly through childhood.