For the past decade, pediatricians have recommended avoiding peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy because of the concern that exposure to an allergen at this time might increase the likelihood of the baby having a food allergy, particularly if there is a strong family history of nut allergy. In spite of these recommendations, not only did the prevalence of allergies fail to decline, but significantly increased during this period, with reported cases of nut allergy tripling from 1997 to 2010 Noting this disturbing trend, in 2008 the American Academy of Pediatricians withdrew their recommendation to avoid any foods during pregnancy to prevent food allergy.
And now, a recent study from Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that eating nuts during pregnancy can actually decrease the risk of allergy in their children. This study found that the children of moms who ate five or more servings of peanuts and tree nuts a week were less likely to develop allergies to these foods than kids whose mothers ate less than one serving a month. Pregnant mothers who are allergic to nuts, of course, should continue to avoid these foods.
The results of this study highlights a principle that has become clearer over the past several years as more research is directed at the growing problem of food allergy: withholding exposure to an allergen, particularly in young children may end up causing the problem that we are trying to prevent.