New U.S. guidelines advise parents to feed their babies peanut products - though never whole peanuts - to help lower the risk of developing potentially life-threatening allergies. Matthew Stock reports.
At nearly 9 months old, Alexander is just starting to get to grips with solid food. But there's one foodstuff that's long been off the menu for babies - peanuts. A recent study, however, has turned the guidelines on their head. While they should never be given to infants whole, pureed peanuts or peanut butter can actually lower the risk of life-threatening allergies. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANTHONY S. FAUCI, M.D., DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES (NIAID), SAYING: "When you give by mouth, expose it through the gastro-intestinal tract, an antigen early on before the child's immune system is fully developed, you what we call 'tolerise' the child to not make a bad response against the peanuts. They become, quote, 'tolerant' to the peanuts." If the baby has severe eczema or egg allergies, clinicians should still be consulted. But for babies like Alexander, a small portion of pure peanut butter should become a regular treat. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANTHONY S. FAUCI, M.D., DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES (NIAID), SAYING: "If you do it at a time when it's very unlikely that you're going to have a peanut allergy... then they figure six months is about the time that you start feeding the child the kinds of foods that you could put peanut-based food in." For mums, it goes against normal recommendations that babies shouldn't be fed peanuts before age 3. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIM, ALEXANDER'S MOTHER, SAYING: "We've always been told that giving a child under 3 was a definite 'no'. But now I can introduce peanuts into my son's diet, which is great news." So what does baby Alexander make of peanut butter? (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIM, ALEXANDER'S MOTHER, SAYING: "He was little unsure at first, but he seemed to like it. So if it means giving him some peanut butter every now and then to prevent allergy then we'll definitely move forward with that step." The new guidelines - published simultaneously in several journals - come following a British trial involving 640 babies over several years. Doctors now hope it could lead to similar trials into other foods with a high allergy risk.