Recent scientific research has suggested that introducing small amounts of peanut butter to babies between four and six months old could reduce the incidence of peanut allergies by 77%. This is a stark contrast to the prevailing advice of the last decade, which suggested avoiding peanut until the child was three years old. This new research, conducted by the University of Southampton, King's College London, and the National Institute for Health and Care Research, suggests that introducing peanut-based foods during the early stages of weaning is key to successfully avoiding the development of peanut allergies.
The researchers warn that whole or chopped nuts and peanuts should not be given to children under five, as they are a choking risk. Instead, they recommend introducing a small amount (around three heaped teaspoons a week) of peanut butter, preferably mixed with breastmilk, in order to help the baby's body to recognise peanut as a food item rather than a threat. The NHS presently advises parents to introduce peanut from around six months old, but the research suggests that the best time to start is between four and six months.
The research also suggests that introducing other foods which are linked to allergies, such as egg, milk, and wheat, during the early stages of weaning can also help to reduce the risk of developing an allergy. The authors of the study, who hail from the University of Southampton, King's College London and the National Institute for Health and Care Research, emphasise that the intervention is simple, low-cost, and safe, and that it could have "vast benefits for future generations". The government has also launched a campaign to clarify the correct time to wean, due to parents often starting earlier than advised.