I recently pulled my baby's detailed feeding chart of the wall and threw it in the trash. I am a liberated woman, 21st century style, which means liberated from one of the intricate rules that apply to every aspect of today's parenting, from feeding to safety devices to sleep position.
I had been feeding my baby, up until about 11 months, according to a schedule based on what I had read and heard: That potentially allergenic foods should be introduced to babies after other foods, with some such as peanut butter being withheld until the age of 2 or even 3 years. So I was searching out the one brand of O cereal I could find that did not contain potentially allergenic corn, and I would throw my body between my baby and a peanut butter cookie.
I had also been introducing each food one at a time, and waiting four days before a new food, as suggested in Ruth Yaron's "Super Baby Food" among other places.
I decided to throw out the chart and start feeding my baby any old thing for two reasons: 1) She was under 15 pounds and not gaining weight, and showed interest only in the table food she saw us eating, not the more "appropriate" foods I put on her tray. 2) The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its stance on withholding potentially allergenic foods.
Turns out, after scouring all the available studies, the AAP has found no validation of their previous advice to hold back on peanut butter, eggs and other potential troublemakers. The new statement was published in January's issue of the journal Pediatrics. By the way, the old advice, released back in 2000, had been directed mainly to allergy-prone families, but in my experience it had been adopted by a wide swath of the parenting public.
They found no conclusive data showing that introducing peanut butter, wheat, fish or eggs at any age -- beyond the 4-to-6-month period -- had any impact on allergies.
I could feed my baby peanut butter on whole wheat right now??? I read the report here, but I couldn't trust that I was interpreting it correctly. It just seemed too crazy to me to throw my generation's conventional wisdom about baby feeding out the window. Think of all the mothers I'd judged when I saw them feeding their child something taboo!
So I called Dr. Dr. Scott Sicherer, AAP chairman of allergy and immunology and co-author of the new policy. Dr. Sicherer explained that the new statement is not saying that peanut butter and other allergenic foods have been proven safe for infants. It just says that they haven't been able to prove them unsafe, either.
While I viewed the news with a giddy feeling of liberation, Sicherer actually saw it as frustrating news for parents with lots of allergies in their families. Basically the AAP is telling them that a strategy they hoped would prevent allergies has not been proven to work.
The statement also covered the effects of diet during maternal pregnancy and breastfeeding on children's allergies. There's no evidence that a special diet during pregnancy helps prevent allergies, although there is evidence that breastfeeding or feeding a special formula may help prevent eczema in young infants, he said.
"We still lack any studes to say whether some of these things help or not ..." Dr. Sicherer said. "Holding off on solid foods to about 6 months is still suggested. ... As far as is it helpful to wait beyond the 6-month period on eggs or peanut butter, there still aren't studies out there that are helpful. I'm not sure I would say there's notheing to worry about. There isn't really evidence so far that that would have a strong effect (on allergies)."
Science has not even ruled out the possibility that delaying the introduction these foods could make allergies more likely. For instance, peanut allergy is much less common in Israel, where peanut products are popular baby snacks. Does the early introduction in Israel actually prevent peanut allergies? Dr. Sicherer cautioned against jumping to that conclusion -- the growing rate of peanut allergies in the West could be caused by other factors not present in Israel. But the notion hasn't been disproved, either.
Sicherer recommends that parents whose babies already show problems with allergies discuss any feeding strategies with their pediatricians, who may recommend a more cautious approach.
But for symptom-free babies, he said, the old recommendations are just too much to ask of parents based on the lack of evidence at this time. After all, no eggs until age 2 means no conventional birthday cake at the big first birthday party, and no fish with its brain-boosting fatty acids.
"It was pretty hefty stuff to do" for children who weren't showing any signs of allergy, Sicherer said.
Sicherer cautioned that parents should still be wary of choking -- you shouldn't give peanut butter to an infant who can't chew it. Yaron, the Super Baby Food author, suggests thinning smooth peanut butter and other nut butters with juice or yogurt for babies.
I found the change to be good news for me, and so far my daughter, who has never exhibited allergy symptoms, has done just fine with eggs, wheat and cornmeal. I think it's even better news for parents whose kids are suffering from allergies and who are blaming themselves because they're afraid they fed the wrong thing at the wrong time.
"There's no scientific evidence for your guilt trip at this point in time," Sicherer said.
By the way, nobody said that the wait-four-days rule is not a good idea.
"I am not aware of a study on this but I think many pediatricians suggest roughly this approach as a traditional one," Dr. Sicherer told me.
I just threw the waiting period out the window myself because I made fattening up my baby top priority, and I felt like it was holding me back from feeding her whatever caught her fancy from our table.
So far, it seems to be working. Just a couple weeks after she weighed in at 14 pounds, 12 ounces (she had lost a pound during a short bout of pneumonia), the baby weighed in at 17 pounds.
And I haven't even given her peanut butter yet. Who could fail to put on pounds eating lots of peanut butter?