A new guideline came out this week from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease focusing on prevention of peanut allergies, and specifically when to introduce high allergen foods to babies. When I heard the news of the new guideline I felt like I could hear every parent collectively sigh out of frustration. It seems like every few months a new guideline is being released, making it hard for parents to stay up to date on safe practices. Unfortunately that's just the way it is in this day and age of non-stop research, but hopefully that's for our benefit.
The new guideline made headlines Thursday and I've already had a few parents contact me wanting to know if I'll be addressing them in my Starting Solids Workshop. I always incorporate the most up to date guidelines and research in my courses, but thought it would be helpful to break it down for everyone here, to save you the headache of actually reading the entire guideline.
Rest assured that for the vast majority of babies there is absolutely no change. In 2015 Health Canada released a Guideline that covered feeding your baby from 6-24 months and in it the recommendation was made for high allergen foods such as nut butters and cooked eggs (yolk & white) to be introduced around 6 months with the introduction of solids. This new guideline agrees with this practice, and reminds parents not to be afraid of feeding age appropriate nut products to babies regularly in your homes, starting around 6 months. Research has shown that frequent early exposure is beneficial to reducing life threatening allergies, so it's important not to let your fear of an allergy keep you from introducing this important food group.
Where the new guideline has made changes is with "high risk children." This category includes all babies with diagnosed egg allergy or severe eczema. In these babies the recommendation is now to start high allergen foods earlier, if the baby is showing signs of readiness. Parents of high risk babies should work in partnership with their baby's physician to plan exposure to high allergen foods starting between 4-6 months when the baby is ready. Nut products and high allergen foods should be started after the baby has started solids "so that the child can demonstrate the ability to consume solid food without evidence of nonspecific signs and symptoms that could be confused with IgE-mediated food allergy." Again this is only for high risk babies. This new guideline is not advocating that we start all babies on solid food earlier. Breastmilk or Formula is still the appropriate food for the vast majority of babies for approximately the first 6 months of life.
Parents can feel very guilty when new guildelines emerge that conflict with how they raised their children. It's important to keep in mind that this ever changing research is not perfect. As always, it could change in years to come, so all we can do is educate ourselves with the best information we can, and focus on feeding our babies a variety of healthy foods. Babies around the world start solids in many different ways, and no one way is proven perfect. Follow your instinct and your baby's lead and speak to your baby's health care provider if you have any concerns about starting solids.
When feeding any nut products to your baby please remember that whole nuts, and large globs or thick layers of nut butters, are choking hazards. Always apply a thin layer of nut butter to toast, crackers etc, or create a thin puree mixed with other foods. Avoid whole nuts with young children. Everyone who feeds your baby should know how to help them in the event of an emergency such as choking, or a life threatening allergic reaction. For more information on how to be prepared to start solids safely with your baby check out my Starting Solids & Infant CPR Workshops and subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch my baby Penny's journey through starting solids.