Peanut allergies are on the rise and they can cause serious reactions, including anaphylaxis. If you are expecting a baby, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce your child’s risk for developing this potentially serious allergy.

One common concern is whether eating peanuts or peanut products while pregnant is safe for your baby. Will that make the baby more likely to have a peanut allergy or will exposure to peanuts during pregnancy offer some protection?

The truth is that there is no way to predict if a child will have a peanut allergy and there is no known way to prevent an allergy from developing. There are some things you should know about peanuts and peanut allergies if you’re pregnant or if you may become pregnant.

Peanut Allergy Basics

Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common food allergies in the United States. Symptoms may include:

  • a tingling in the mouth
  • stomach cramps or nausea
  • hives
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling of the tongue
  • anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is the most serious reaction. If anaphylactic shock sets in, a person’s blood pressure drops, airways constrict, the heart rate accelerates, and the pulse becomes weak. Severe nausea and vomiting can also result. A 911 call is vital if someone appears to go into anaphylaxis.

If someone has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy, he or she should carry an automatic epinephrine (EpiPen) injector when going out. The device should also be in easy reach at home. Sometimes exposure to peanuts or peanut products in the air is enough to produce a reaction.

Usually, a peanut allergy is diagnosed within the first two years of life. Depending on exposure, the allergy may not present itself until much later. If you suspect that your child has a peanut allergy, be sure to see an allergist for testing. A simple skin prick that deposits a tiny amount of peanut fluid under the skin is usually all that’s required. A positive or negative result will occur within a few minutes.

Though peanut oil isn’t used in many non-food products in the United States, there is some concern that exposure to peanut oil in diaper creams, for example, may raise the risk of a child developing a peanut allergy. As a precaution, you may want to avoid exposing your baby’s skin to peanut oil, especially if there is a cut or broken skin.

Peanuts During Pregnancy

If you are not allergic to peanuts, you should feel safe consuming them during pregnancy. If you do have an allergy to peanuts or any food, you should avoid them at all times. Remember that peanuts may be hiding in a variety of foods, including:

  • chocolate products
  • Asian cuisine
  • cereals
  • granola bars
  • other items processed in places that also produce peanut products

Peanuts are actually a smart food choice for pregnant women. They contain protein and folate. Folate and folic acid supplements are recommended during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects, particularly in the brain and spine. Of course, your sense of smell and your taste preferences may change significantly during pregnancy. If the scent of peanuts isn’t agreeing with you, then find other sources of protein and folate. Folic acid supplements may be recommended, regardless of your regular diet.

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Genetics and Lifelong Allergies

Peanut allergies, like other allergies, tend to run in families. Not long ago, the thinking was that if someone in your family had a peanut allergy, you should avoid peanuts during pregnancy. Peanut consumption during pregnancy is now considered safe if the mother has no peanut allergy, regardless of family history.

Peanuts in the Home
There is rising concern for children who have impaired skin barriers, like in the case of eczema, and when peanuts are consumed in the home. It is theorized that peanut dust in the air could repeatedly enter through the impaired skin and create an immune response that could result in a food allergy. More research is needed to confirm these findings as well as for development of better skin allergy testing.

Unfortunately, as serious as peanut allergies can be, there is limited research and little consensus on if and how to prevent or predict the occurrence of peanut allergies. About one in five children outgrows a peanut allergy, but usually these allergies last a lifetime. Other common childhood allergies, such as milk allergy, can also be outgrown.

If you have any questions about foods during pregnancy, consult with a nutritionist who specializes in working with expectant mothers. Your healthcare provider may also be a good resource. Pregnancy can be a wonderful, but anxious time. Whenever you have concerns, seek out the answers so that you can enjoy these months as much as possible.