According to a new study from Boston Children’s Hospital, peanut consumption by women during pregnancy doesn’t lead to peanut allergy in their children.

In fact, peanut consumption by pregnant mothers who weren’t nut allergic was associated with lower risk of peanut allergy in their offspring - so, unless she is actually allergic to peanuts, there’s no reason for a woman to avoid peanuts during pregnancy.

Previously, health experts had advised women to avoid highly allergenic foods such as peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and while nursing. They had also been told that their children should stay away from peanuts until they were 3 years of age.

These recommendations were made to minimize early allergen exposure and sensitization and reduce the risk of developing childhood peanut allergy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even endorsed these recommendations in 2000.

Surprisingly, the number of peanut allergy cases in the US tripled in the period between 1997 and 2007. In other words, the avoidance recommendation for peanuts did nothing to stop the increase in peanut allergies. Because of this, the AAP rescinded their recommendation in 2008.

To better understand the relationship between maternal diet and the development of food allergy in children, Children’s Hospital researchers analyzed data from over 8000 children provided by the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS).

First, they positively identified 140 cases of peanut or tree nut allergies. Next, they examined the peanut and nut consumption of each child’s mother during the peri-pregnancy period and compared them with the dietary habits of pregnant women whose children did not develop a peanut allergy.

To their surprise, the researchers found that the rate of peanut allergy was significantly lower among children whose mothers ate peanuts during the peri-pregnancy period.

Since these data only show an association, health experts cannot say with certainty that eating more peanuts during pregnancy will actually prevent peanut allergy in children - but they can confidently say that peanut consumption during pregnancy doesn’t cause peanut allergy in children.

In other words, when it comes to peanuts, early allergen exposure seems to increase tolerance and reduce risk of childhood food allergy.

Source: Pregnant Women Need Not Fear Peanuts.