BabyGaga recently shared an article about the updated AAP guidelines for introducing peanuts, and shortly after, we were contacted on behalf of National Peanut Board to announce the release of a new collection of baby clothes called “Size 4 to 6 Months”. The adorable and visionary fashion line was fittingly designed to encourage parents to introduce peanuts to their child as early as 4-6 months.
A groundbreaking study found that parents of children at risk for peanut allergy could help reduce their baby’s chance of its development by up to 86 percent by feeding them small amounts of peanut foods as early as 4-6 months of age.
We had the unique opportunity to interview the awe-inspiring Jessica Shyba, founder of the popular motherhood blog, Momma’s Gone City about introducing children to peanuts. The mother of five is extraordinary - a paragon of ‘parenting knowledge’ under any circumstance. At the same time, for Jessica it’s personal. As a toddler, her son Jack was diagnosed with food allergies and asthma - from at which point she states, began her crash course in prevention and adaptation.
BabyGaga (BG): Hello Jessica! I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview you today. Congratulations on your blog Momma’s Gone City, it’s wonderful, it’s organic, it’s essential. When the guidelines for early introduction of peanut foods to help prevent allergies were released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Peanut Board saw this new research as an opportunity to help advance the conversation around peanut allergy prevention. You are the quintessential person to get the dialogue started. Could you please explain the new guidelines? What do they imply?
Jessica Shyba (JS): In 2015, there was a groundbreaking study called LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut) that showed it was possible to prevent children from developing peanut allergies. That study was then adopted by the NIAID, which established the updated guidelines I’m discussing with National Peanut Board today.
According to the guidelines, parents can help reduce their child’s chances of developing a potential peanut allergy by up to 86 percent by introducing small amounts of baby-friendly peanut foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age, depending on the child’s risk factors. While most kids fall into the low-risk category, every child’s risk is different, so parents can visit PreventPeanutAllergies.org or talk to their pediatrician for more information.
The new guidelines were a huge breakthrough for me and parents everywhere, as they showed there is a way to help reduce your child’s chances of developing a potential peanut allergy.
BG: Many parents have expressed their skepticism about negating the strict guidelines that health experts have perpetuated for years. Diversely, others feel remorse, believing they could have prevented their child’s allergies had the guidelines been different. What advice would you offer them?
JS: Moms and dads have equally the most fulfilling and toughest job in the world as a parent, so I don’t think they should be too hard on themselves. We are constantly learning about new information and I had learned about the guidelines for introducing peanut foods to children after already having three of my kids, including my oldest son Jack, who is allergic to nuts and has asthma, which is triggered by his food sensitivities.
While we likely would have introduced peanuts to Jack early, the research and information just wasn’t there at the time, and we could only do what we knew was best. Knowing how difficult it can be for parents to deal with the stress of their child having food allergies, spreading this message about early introduction to peanut foods is very important to me.
And although it is not necessary to check with your pediatrician before introducing peanut foods to your baby if they are in the low- or medium-risk category, you can always seek their advice if it helps make you feel more comfortable as you take this next step with your child.
BG: Your son Jack lives with food allergies and asthma, have you personally contemplated whether the revised guidelines may have altered his circumstances?
JS: When we discovered Jack had food allergies just as he turned two, our first question was “why?” as we have no history of food allergies in our family. Had this information been available at that time, we absolutely would have introduced peanut foods early, and I definitely think that early introduction of peanut foods might have positively influenced his health and future with food allergies.
BG: How have you personally ‘modernized’ the way in which you introduce allergenic foods to your other children? Do you ultimately trust in the revised recommendations?
JS: When the guidelines came out, I spoke to our pediatrician, because I was hesitant that the guidelines changed. Our pediatrician explained them to me, and it made complete sense. I introduced peanut foods to my daughter Demi when she was around six months and my daughter Evvie at two years right when the new research came out. What’s great is that there are so many different ways you can introduce peanuts to your child! With Demi, we mixed peanut powder with soft foods we made in the kitchen as a family, like pancakes or waffles, and fed them to her during breakfast. For a quicker snack, we would thin a small amount peanut butter with some hot water or mix in some powdered peanut butter with applesauce, yogurt or pureed fruits and vegetables. There are even peanut puffs that parents can buy for their baby to snack on.
BG: When a child is allergic to peanuts, families must closely monitor everything the child eats both in and outside the home because accidental consumption of peanuts could prove fatal. As a parent of a son with allergic asthma you must live with some form of anxiety, what steps do you take to ultimately feel in control?
JS: One of the things that we’ve learned about living with food allergies is that we want Jack to feel in control of his body no matter where he is. At 12 years old and the only person in our family of seven with food allergies, guiding him to be his own best advocate while feeling safe in his home has been paramount in his and our everyday life. We keep air purifiers running throughout the home and in his room, and we don’t bring food into the home that contains nuts without a label. Jack has been exposed to nuts and hospitalized a handful of times, and in each instance, we were in a restaurant with precautions taken. Feeling safe in our home is absolutely critical, and Jack knows to and makes sure to ask before he puts anything in his body that he’s not 100% certain about.
BG: According to Melissa Lieberman, a psychologist at the Sick Kids Eating Disorders Program, “Children’s behavior is often modeled after their parents, especially younger children,” what important message is your son receiving from you and your family about his diagnosis?
Jessica: The most important message we try to send to Jack is that he isn’t different. Sure, his body reacts to foods in a way that some other people don’t deal with, but it’s something that we are adamant about building his trust (in his own ability to address his health) and confidence in us as his parents and in himself primarily. We do not ostracize him or keep him from activities that involve potential exposures, but we maintain that he is the only one that can protect himself the best. That means being confident in voicing his concerns to strangers and not feeling weird about accepting food from others that doesn’t have a label or chef approval.
BG: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explains that the real purpose of the guidelines is "to spread the word.” Please acquaint our readers about the adorable and uniquely designed baby clothes fashioned to do just that - released by the National Peanut Board.
JS: I absolutely love the “Size 4 to 6 Months” baby fashion line created by the National Peanut Board. The peanutty designs are so adorable, and most importantly, they serve as an important reminder to parents that they can introduce their babies to peanut foods as early as 4 to 6 months old to help reduce their chances of developing a peanut allergy later in life. Plus, each purchase of Size 4 to 6 Months apparel directly supports the advancement of allergy solutions through a donation to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.” You can choose from 10 designs for your own little peanut at PreventPeanutAllergies.org/4-to-6-Months!
BG: Jessica, is there one thought, one word, one inspiration you could share with us today? Something that will affect and guide not only our readers but through your honest introspection - yourself as well.
JS: The greatest lesson that we have had to learn as a family and for Jack as an individual, is not to live in fear. It’s sometimes a worrisome journey and will always be, but having the confidence and strength to move through life learning to communicate and advocate for ourselves is absolutely critical to a successful, positive life...allergies or asthma or not. This is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but the lessons we have taken from it have positively affected our lives and the lives of our other children. Living with differences can be a true blessing in disguise.
BG: Jessica, your journey has certainly been admirable. For many parents - unimaginable. Anyone who takes a few minutes out of their day, to share in yours by partaking in Momma’s Gone City will be changed - and it will be invaluable. A million thank yous!