I was super nervous the first time I fed each of my kids peanuts, terrified that they might have a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Kids can be allergic to any food, of course, but peanut allergies are particularly scary. While relatively rare, anaphylaxis isn't something you want to mess around with.
When my kids were babies, the prevailing advice was to delay introducing peanuts into a child’s diet in case they were allergic. So when I heard that actor/director/all-around-awesome-human Justin Baldoni and his wife were feeding peanuts to their 6-month-old son — as his first solid food, no less — I was intrigued.
Justin Baldoni and his wife, Emily, have a 2-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son.
It never would have crossed my mind to give my kids peanuts as infants, and certainly not as a first food. But my kids are older, and research is ever-evolving.
Baldoni told me that he and his wife Emily decided on early introduction of peanuts after reviewing the research and consulting with their child's doctor about new data on how to prevent peanut allergies.
"Once we talked to our pediatrician and we found that it was safe and could greatly improve his chances of not developing a peanut allergy, we thought as parents we should give it a go," he says.
According to the latest research, "early and often" exposure to peanuts may prevent peanut allergies from developing later on.
A landmark study released in 2015 found that early consumption of peanuts significantly reduced a child’s chance of developing a peanut allergy. The striking results of that study prompted new recommendations from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Instead of delaying or avoiding peanuts, the new recommendation is to start exposure to peanut proteins early — between 4 and 6 months — and continue to feed peanuts to children a few times a week to prevent allergies from developing.
Doting daddy that he is, Baldoni naturally wants to do what's best for his kids.
Baldoni explained how he and Emily have gone about exposing their son Maxwell to peanut protein.
"Maxwell is primarily breastfed, so the first thing we actually introduced into his diet was peanuts," he said. "We took a little bit of ground peanut powder, and we mixed it in with his mama’s fresh breastmilk. And we just kind of spoon-fed it to him three times a week."
"As they say, early and often is what helps prevent it."
The guidelines are so new that many parents may not be aware of them — or they might be afraid to follow them.
Baldoni said they didn’t have this research when his daughter, Maiya, was a baby. She’s now almost 3. With new research being done all the time, recommendations are constantly changing, so it can be hard for parents to keep up.
Justin Baldoni with his daughter, Maiya. Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images.
It can also be nerve-wracking to follow new advice that flies in the face of old recommendations. Having experienced this myself as a parent, I asked Baldoni if he and Emily were nervous to give Maxwell peanuts.
"Totally nervous," he replied.
"Emily and I are just very aware. Her sister has a pretty severe nut allergy, and I have friends with peanut allergies, and I have family members with food allergies."
"I think as parents, anytime you’re going to introduce something into your child’s diet that helps to prevent a further allergy, it’s a scary thing. But once we talked to our doctor, we were much less nervous because Maxwell was also low-risk. So we just introduced it at home, and we watched him. He loved it, and he was fine, and so we just kept going."
The website preventpeanutallergies.org has information about what makes a child low-risk or high-risk for peanut allergy, in addition to other common questions about the research and recommendations.
Baldoni has partnered with organizations invested in preventing peanut allergies to help raise awareness about the new guidelines.
He's known for using his social media platform for good, and he and Emily decided that preventing peanut allergies in kids is a cause worth promoting. He's partnered with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI); the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT); and the National Peanut Board to spread the word.
Baldoni said he believes that if even one life is saved, it's worth it.
"I know and I’ve seen first-hand what a peanut allergy can do to somebody’s life and how it can affect them, and the fear that people experience when they have a peanut allergy, whether it’s on planes … eating at restaurants … always having to make sure, and double check, and triple check, and take an EpiPen with them ..."
"If there is a way to prevent this, if there was a way to make a child’s life that much easier, then absolutely I want to use my platform to help with that."
"We’ll never know, but if one parent does this and their child doesn’t develop an allergy and otherwise they would have, then I think this is really good and important work, and that’s something that I’m really passionate about — making sure that we’re always using our blessings and our gifts to pay it forward and help others."
While the Baldonis chose peanuts as a first food in consultation with their doctor, the ACAAI recommends that peanuts be introduced after other solid foods. Parents should consult with their doctors about any concerns they have about food allergies. For more information about peanut allergies and prevention, visit preventpeanutallergies.org.