Many parents of infants and young kids today have food allergies on their list of daily worries. Now, updated guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, published in Pediatrics, give worried parents the latest information on what works and what doesn’t to prevent and manage food allergies.
First, the new guidelines suggest there’s no benefit to delaying the introduction of highly-allergenic foods like peanuts, eggs, fish, and milk beyond the typically-recommended age of 4 to 6 months. Exposing infants to potential allergens as early as 4 months may actually help prevent allergies, even in those with a family history of allergies or at those at higher-than-normal risk for other reasons.
This is because the digestive tract contains unique immune system cells, and when these cells are exposed to specific allergenic proteins like those in peanut products, a baby will be able to tolerate them. In addition, the guidelines recommend against avoiding common food allergens during pregnancy or while breastfeeding because doing so doesn’t lower the risk of food allergies in babies and young children. But exclusive breastfeeding for at least three months appears to lessen the risk for allergic conditions like eczema and asthma.
Besides early exposure, another key to preventing food allergies in children and adults is regular exposure. Parents should continue giving infants foods they’re tolerating well several times per week, and kids and adults should eat a diverse variety of foods to promote good nutrition and prevent food allergies.