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A new study led by researchers at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (owned and operated by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba) and the University of Manitoba suggests that moms who eat peanut while breastfeeding, and who feed their infants peanut before 12 months, could be protecting their babies from a future peanut allergy.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, investigated the relationship between moms eating peanut while breastfeeding, babies eating peanut in their first year of life, and sensitivity to peanut at seven years of age.

Researchers discovered that the lowest rate of peanut sensitization – a red flag for potential peanut allergy – was among the children whose moms ate peanut while breastfeeding and fed their baby peanut before 12 months. If moms ate peanut while breastfeeding but did not feed it to their babies before 12 months, or vice versa, the rate of peanut sensitization was significantly higher.

“What’s interesting about this study is that it is the first to consider peanut exposure through breastfeeding together with direct exposure before 12 months,” said Dr. Meghan Azad, scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba and assistant professor in the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

“Recent studies showing the benefit of early peanut introduction have inspired a reversal of national and international guidelines regarding peanut avoidance, but those studies did not address peanut consumption while breastfeeding,” said Azad. “So we were still missing an important piece of the puzzle.”

One limitation of the study is that all children enrolled were classified as “high risk” for allergies, meaning there’s a family history of allergies or a sibling who has an allergy. Another limitation is the measurement of sensitization as opposed to confirmed allergy.

Still, Azad said, it’s a useful starting point for additional research.

“As a next step, we want to learn how this works.  We are studying breast milk composition to understand how peanut proteins and other factors in breast milk might contribute to the prevention of peanut allergy.”

Food allergies have been on the rise in recent decades and approximately 7% of Canadian children have a food allergy, with peanut being the most common. Azad and her team specialize in research on the developmental origins of health and disease, with a focus on allergies and diabetes.

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