Peanuts and pregnancy: risky or not?

Peanuts and AllergiesA study published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revisits the age-old question of this generation: “Is it risky to eat peanuts during pregnancy?”

In 2000, the recommendation was to avoid peanuts during pregnancy to reduce the risk of a child developing a lifelong peanut allergy. Then in 2008, medical groups changed their minds and said not to worry about it. The scientific research has flip-flopped, and thus, the advice has too.

In this recent study, pediatric allergy experts looked at over 500 babies, 3—15 months of age, who were already known to have allergies. These babies had a significant allergic reaction to cow’s milk and/or eggs, a skin test reaction to cow’s milk and/or eggs, and/or moderate to severe eczema (an allergic skin condition, sometimes due to a food allergy). Also noteworthy: over 60% of the parents of these kids also had allergic disease. (This is really no surprise because allergies are hereditary!) It’s important to keep in mind that the study participants were already predisposed to allergies.

The researchers asked moms to report on their peanut consumption during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. (Reality check: do you really think moms are able to remember exactly how much peanut butter or pad thai they ate 3—15 months after delivery?!) So, this is a weakness of the study.

But, the results are significant. Moms who said they ate peanuts products at least twice a week in their 3rd trimester were more likely to have a baby with abnormal blood/skin test levels showing a sensitization to peanuts. But let’s be clear: these children did not have allergic reactions after eating peanuts. Their lab results just showed a likelihood of peanut allergy.

And, what about indulging in a Reese’s peanut butter cup while nursing? Good news. This study did NOT show an association with peanut consumption while breastfeeding. So, go for it.

What does this all mean for you?

This is an intriguing study that is worthy of follow-up. It wouldn’t hurt to limit peanut intake during pregnancy (less than twice a week) if a pregnant woman or her partner has known allergic disease. But, this dietary restriction probably isn’t applicable to all pregnant couples at this point, given conflicting results in the scientific research to date.