Understanding the New Allergy Prevention Guidelines

Image of a kid looking at a bowl of peanuts

Earlier this year the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued new clinical guidelines advising parents on when to introduce allergen-containing foods to their babies. The new guidelines recommend that most babies be fed allergens like peanut and milk products early. This is in stark contrast to the advice parents were given just a few years ago to wait and introduce allergenic foods until one or two years of age.

So why the change and what does it mean for parents? Allergists Dr. Binita Mandal and Dr. Rubina Inamdar of Mercy Medical Group are urgently trying to educate parents about these new guidelines and the reasoning behind them.

Breastfeeding is Still Best

Dr. Mandal and Dr. Inamdar agree that the first thing parents need to know is that until your baby is between four and six months old, exclusive breastfeeding is still the best option. "Breastfeeding is so important for babies," says Dr. Mandal. "It helps with their immune system and gives them all the nutrients they need. It has also been shown to reduce incidence of wheezing later in life, atopic dermatitis, and food allergies."

Keep Skin Healthy

During those first few months, the doctors also say parents should check regularly for signs of eczema on their baby. "If your baby has eczema, he or she should see an allergist to be skin tested for allergies," says Dr. Inamdar. "Not only is eczema a risk factor for food allergies, but we now know that it is through imperfect skin that the allergens in food get into the baby's immune system. It's important to keep your baby's skin as a healthy as possible so it can do its job and act as a barrier."

Dr. Inamdar says babies need less bathing and more moisturizing. "We want to use single ingredient moisturizers like Vaseline or coconut oil to hydrate the skin. Bathing should be done infrequently. And skip the scented soaps when you do wash your baby - the fewer ingredients, the better!"

Know the Risk Factors

In addition to eczema, a family history of asthma and/or allergies (food allergies or seasonal allergies) also mean that your baby is at high risk for allergies. "Babies with a family history of asthma or allergies should see an allergist prior to introduction of allergenic foods," explains Dr. Mandal. "If a skin test shows food allergies, we will work with the parents to come up with a plan for introducing certain foods."

The two-month checkup is the ideal time to talk to your pediatrician about any risk factors your baby may have.

Recommendations for Low Risk Babies

For babies without eczema or a family history of asthma and allergies, parents are encouraged to introduce all foods once the baby is ready for solids. This includes cow's milk, peanut products, and all of the other top allergens.

"We recommend feeding your baby cheese or yogurt to introduce them to cow's milk," says Dr. Mandal. "And for peanuts - use peanut butter. Introduce a little bit at a time, gradually increasing the amount over time. Research shows introducing these foods early can actually prevent the development of food allergies."

Dr. Inamdar says the goal is to have babies eating the same foods as the rest of the family. "In countries without food allergies, kids are eating table food, right alongside the rest of the family. Research shows that for most children, this can prevent food allergies from developing. We really want to spread the word about this groundbreaking research. Our goal is to see the kids in our community grow up without food allergies!"

To for more information about Dr. Mandal visit our website here and for more information about Dr. Inamdar, see here.

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