Having lived a block or two from the water since I moved to Key West, I’ve had a recurring dream where a grouper leaps from the water and onto my kitchen counter, ready for dressing and cooking. Call it my Fantasy Feast, if you will. My enthusiasm for this unlikely event has dimmed a little, however: it would be a feast for one, since my spouse appears to be allergic to essentially all seafood.

Whether the banquet is real or imagined, food allergies, in fact, are no fun. And they can be particularly challenging when you’re a parent and they affect your child. Certainly severe food allergies — the ones where someone lands in the emergency room with life-threatening symptoms — can be a real worry. Even without the threat of something that dire, though, what a child eats can cause symptoms that range from mild wheezing to runny nose to skin rashes. (By “skin rashes” here we’re usually talking about eczema — dry, scaly skin that’s uncomfortable but not life-threatening. Hives or welts, on the other hand, can mean a more severe problem.)

Because food allergies are real, doctors, particularly those who see kids, have always been interested in a dietary fix that would keep symptoms away, preferably for good. What that historically meant was that we’d make a special effort to delay giving infants foods that were most likely to cause problems. For example, one recommendation has been to delay seafood to as late as 3 years of age! That’s a long time for that catch to stay in the freezer.

Lately, however, there have been developments in infant research that may make providers eat their words. The findings were compelling enough to be mentioned in an updated report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The report, which came out just last week, compared breastfed infants who consumed common allergy-producing foods between 3 and 5 months of age. In one study, researchers found that giving peanut butter and cooked egg at this age helped protect against symptoms later. In a second study, giving an “infant-friendly” form of peanut to 4- to 11-month-olds protected against more severe allergic symptoms later.

Based on these studies, the AAP has changed its recommendation. Peanut products may be introduced as early as 4 to 6 months of age in babies who have shown certain allergic symptoms such as eczema. (The egg results were a little more mixed, so they’ve held off on any recommendations there.) There’s a big “BUT” here, however: always talk with your baby’s provider first! He or she may want to test your little one for severe allergy, which would nix peanut time. It might also be important to introduce that first feed in the doctor’s office. Likewise, keep in mind that there are other hazards with nuts and even peanut butter, such as choking; seek advice on an infant-friendly peanut forms. Finally, there are often other reasons to delay solid food — the baby may not yet be swallowing well, for example — so talk about solids before giving them.

And that fish thing? What should you do for your youngest diners if that grouper does indeed land on your counter? There don’t yet seem to be definitive fish studies, but the AAP has reaffirmed its recommendation that infants without allergies have the go-ahead for just about anything after about 6 months of age. So once that food is okayed on other grounds—bon appetit! And I’ll leave my back door open should any grouper family members decide to follow suit … 

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