As soon as you find yourself pregnant, you encounter a long list of rules. It seems like the medical community and concerned family and friends have something to say about what you eat and drink, how much you exercise, and even what side you sleep on at night. As if that wasn’t enough, sometimes recommendations change. It’s understandable that you might hesitate before spreading peanut butter on your sandwich.
Why Could Peanuts Be Harmful?
Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies. What’s more, peanut allergies are often serious, or even life-threatening. Nut and peanut allergies often manifest in the form of anaphylaxis, a reaction that can cause vomiting, difficulty breathing, and shock.
Back in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that women avoid consuming peanuts during pregnancy, especially if the moms were prone to food allergies themselves. The thought at the time was that babies would be more likely to develop an allergy if exposed to common allergens (and potentially their mother’s allergic reaction) in the womb. A research study published in 2010 found a link between frequent peanut consumption during pregnancy and peanut sensitivity in infants. The study was based on 503 infants who had already shown signs of a likely milk or egg allergy.
If either of the baby’s parents has a history of food allergies, particularly peanut allergies, don’t reach for a honey-roasted snack just yet. It’s worth checking in with your OBGYN or doctor to discuss the best pregnancy diet for you.
Why Eating Peanuts Could Be Beneficial
Studies have not drawn a clear link between eating peanuts during pregnancy and delivering a baby who later developed a peanut allergy. In fact, several studies indicated the opposite is more likely. A study in JAMA Pediatrics, based on almost 11,000 mothers and children, found that the more peanuts the mothers ate during pregnancy, the less likely their children were to develop peanut allergies. Another study on 600 children found that kids who avoided peanuts before their 5th birthday were more likely to develop an allergy.
The AAP reversed their stance on peanuts in 2008, releasing new guidelines that said there was no need for moms to limit common allergenic foods just because they were pregnant. In 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) published guidelines that separate infants into three groups, based on their risk of developing a peanut allergy:
- Babies who develop severe eczema, egg allergy, or both are considered “high risk.” NIAID guidelines recommend testing for peanut allergy using a method such as a skin-prick test. Based on the results, the NIAID recommends introducing peanut products around 4-6 months of age.
- Babies with mild to moderate eczema fall into the second risk level. Recommendations suggest offering peanut products at around 6 months. As always, consult your pediatrician about starting solid foods safely with your baby and how to introduce potentially allergenic foods.
- The lowest-risk category is babies with no known food allergies, and no eczema. The recommendations suggest introducing peanut products whenever your family prefers to, as long as your baby is developmentally ready for solid foods.
You may notice that the guidelines recommend introducing peanuts earlier for higher-risk infants. This may seem counterintuitive at first, until you consider the research suggesting that early exposure may help prevent or reduce the allergy.
Should I Eat Peanuts During My Pregnancy?
Of course, introducing peanuts to your baby is different from tossing back a handful yourself during pregnancy. Consider this: besides some evidence linking peanut consumption during pregnancy with lower allergy risk later, peanuts are a healthy snack. They contain protein, folate, and healthy fats. If you’re not allergic, and if you enjoy peanuts, they can be a beneficial part of your pregnancy meal plan.
If you’re still concerned, talk to your doctor. It’s worthwhile to bring up diet questions with a professional who understands your unique health history, and who can apply the best medical standards to help you decide what is the healthiest and safest option for you.