About 1 percent of children and adults in the United States are allergic to peanuts and peanut products, including peanut butter and any food containing peanuts. For reasons that are not well understood, peanut allergy has doubled in the past decade. Individuals with a peanut allergy can have a serious (such as difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness) or even fatal reaction if they eat peanuts. This reaction occurs because that person’s immune system reacts abnormally to usually harmless proteins in peanuts. Children and adults who are allergic to peanuts should not eat them at any time. Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent peanut allergy in a child.
Should a pregnant woman eat peanuts or peanut products? Women who are allergic to peanuts should not eat peanuts or peanut products during pregnancy or at any other time. Studies suggest, however, that women who are not allergic to peanuts can safely eat peanuts during pregnancy.
Because peanut allergy tends to run in families, health care providers have been seeking ways to help prevent this allergy in babies from affected families. Until recently, experts recommended that women who aren’t allergic to peanuts but who have a family history of peanut allergy avoid peanuts during pregnancy. However, recent studies have found no evidence that avoiding peanuts in pregnancy helps prevent peanut allergies in the child.
Peanuts can be healthy food choices for pregnant women. Peanuts are a good source of protein and folate. Folate is the form of folic acid that is found naturally in foods. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy helps prevent certain serious birth defects of the brain and spine. The March of Dimes recommends that all women who could become pregnant take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, and make healthy food choices that include foods rich in folic acid.
If a woman is not allergic to peanuts, she can eat peanuts and peanut products while breastfeeding. There is no evidence that avoiding peanuts during breastfeeding helps prevent peanut allergies in the child.
Infants and young children who have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy should never eat peanuts or peanut products. Until recently, experts recommended delaying introduction of peanuts and peanut products to children with a family history of peanut allergy until age 3. But recent studies suggest that this delay does not help prevent peanut allergy.
In fact, a 2008 study found a 10-fold greater risk of peanut allergy in children who did not eat peanuts in infancy and early childhood compared to those who ate high quantities of peanuts. Additional studies are needed to determine whether eating peanuts in early childhood can help prevent peanut allergy in high-risk children.
To learn more about peanut allergies, the signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, read our article.