Photo of Portrait of a loving mother feeding her baby girl. Newborn child fed with by mom.

In a step forward in food allergy prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its Dietary Guidelines to include early introduction of food allergens to infants and young children. It’s the first time the USDA addressed food allergies in its dietary guidelines.

The recommendations follow similar peanut allergy guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

How should parents introduce potential food allergens to babies?

The USDA guidelines recommend parents introduce food allergens to a child in the first year of life when other complementary foods are introduced in the diet. This can help prevent the development of food allergies. Common food allergens include:

  • peanut
  • egg
  • cow’s milk
  • tree nuts
  • wheat
  • soy
  • shellfish

“There is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy,” the USDA guidelines say.

What do USDA Guidelines say about introducing peanut to babies?

Most of the updated USDA guidelines center around early introduction of peanut.

“Introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts,” the guidelines say.

Peanut products should be given to infants at home in a puree or powder sauce. Sometimes it can be mixed in with oatmeal, applesauce or mashed banana. Some children do well with Bamba, a commercial peanut-containing puff. For very young children (7 months or younger), the puffs should be softened in 4-6 tablespoons of water.

Never give whole peanuts to an infant or young child, as they are a choking hazard until age 5.

Should you introduce peanut to babies at high risk for food allergies?

If an infant has severe eczema, egg allergy or both, the child is at higher risk for peanut allergy. In this case, the USDA guidelines recommend introduction of peanut as early as 4 to 6 months.

Parents of children who are at high risk for peanut allergy should always talk with a pediatrician before giving peanut to an infant.