Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Merits of Peanut Butter

I'd like to first say that large quantities of peanut butter aren't safe for babies because it can pose a choking hazard. That seems pretty self-evident; after all, it's sticky and difficult to swallow! Peanuts themselves are, of course, considered a choking hazard, too.

That said, I've decided to start offering Oliver small quantities (specifically, a bit on my finger) of all-natural peanut butter, which is actually against pediatrician recommendation.

At Oliver's 6 month appointment, our pediatrician gave the green light on all food groups with some specific exceptions: fish (because of allergen risk), juice (because it's high in sugar and low in nutritional value and contributes to childhood obesity), honey (because of the botulism risk until age 1), and peanut products (because of allergen risk).

However, when I was pregnant with Oliver, I read a little article in Parents magazine that said new studies have shown that waiting to introduce peanut products to babies/children actually increases their risk of developing a peanut allergy. It doesn't just slightly increase their risk; the article said it increased their risk by tenfold.

I didn't think to ask the doctor at the time, and I wish I had. I've been absolutely paranoid about Oliver developing a peanut allergy. I stopped using lotion on both him and me when I read lotions containing peanut oil were linked to increase risk of peanut allergy (later, after contacting Aveno, I learned our lotion was free of peanut oil and resumed its use. Apparently, most lotions that contain peanut oil are "high end" lotions, especially from Europe). For a period, I drastically decreased my soy consumption because I read that might increase a breast fed child's risk of peanut allergy (I resumed soy consumption when I had to eliminate dairy from my diet).

My friend, Corinne, is a microbiologist, and she explained to me a bit about the hygiene hypothesis (Wikipedia article: http://http// According to the hypothesis, kids who grow up in an ultra clean environment have "bored" immune systems that over react to their environment, and they end up with increased risk of asthma and allergies. I actually try not to keep our house too clean now by using just water to clean our floors and some surfaces, and I encourage Oliver to touch things outside like our flowers and tall grass.

Later, I decided to read up on the study I'd originally read about in Parents magazine. Here's a link to the study from The American Academy of Pediatrics:

Essentially, the researchers looked at groups of children in Israel, who have a very low occurance of peanut allergies. They then contrasted them to Jewish children living in the United Kingdom, where the incidence of peanut allergies is high and growing, just like in America. Anyway, they found that children in Israel are given peanut butter early on. Specifically, 69% of Israeli children were eating peanut products by 9 months of age (compared to 10% of children of the same age in the United Kingdom). In the United Kingdom, parents are (were) recommended to wait until their children reached age 3 to introduce peanuts. Anyway, they found the children from Israel were much less likely to have peanut allergies, especially the at risk group of children with eczema.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has stopped recommending that parents wait until age 3 to introduce peanut products to their children (http://http//

Because the doctors have brought up Oliver's skin issues and mentioned the word "eczema" multiple times, and because an estimated 20-30 percent of infants have at least a mild form of the skin condition, I consider Oliver to be in the "at risk" group. Different websites I've consulted have stated that babies with eczema have anywhere from a 6% chance of developing a peanut allergy to a 10% chance. Additionally, my mom has a very mild allergy to walnuts (they cause her throat to itch), and that also increases Oliver's risk of a nut allergy.

Based on all the information I read (I emphasize this because I don't want people to think I'd disregard doctors' advice on a whim), I decided to introduce Oliver to peanut butter at 7 months. A few days ago, I put the tiniest dot of peanut butter on my finger tip and offered it to him. I watched him like a hawk for the next two hours, but he had no hives, no difficulties breathing. I waited until yesterday and repeated the small dot of peanut butter. Again, he had no issues. Today, I offered him a dab of peanut butter that I'd describe as a quarter of a pea size. Again, there were no issues. Typically, peanut allergy symptoms appear within two hours of consumption, and most other allergies appear within a week. So far, so good. I think I'll keep up the small amounts of peanut butter (perhaps by stirring in an eigth of a teaspoon into his bananas and apples) for a while and see how that goes.

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