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Is It Safe to Eat Peanut Butter During Pregnancy?

Here's the sticky truth about eating peanut butter during pregnancy.
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profile picture of Jenna McCarthy
ByJenna McCarthy
Updated
August 31, 2021
Open jar of peanut butter on wooden cutting board.
Image: Getty Images

Figuring out what to eat during pregnancy—and what not to eat—to help support baby’s growth and development can get tricky. There are all kinds of superfoods moms-to-be should regularly incorporate into their diet, including lean meats, beans, sweet potatoes, eggs and nuts. But with the rise of peanut allergies in American children, it’s only natural to wonder if peanut products are safe to consume when you’re expecting. Will snacking on PB&Js increase baby’s risk of a peanut allergy? To clear the confusion, we asked two experts to break down exactly what you need to know about eating peanut butter during pregnancy.

Generally, yes, it’s safe to eat peanut butter during pregnancy. “There is no risk to eating peanuts or peanut butter during pregnancy if you are not allergic, and there is no data that preventing peanut or peanut butter decreases the chances of a baby having peanut allergies,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “If anything, some data shows that eating peanut butter while pregnant may prevent peanut allergies, but more studies are needed.”

If this comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. Much of the confusion surrounding the safety of eating peanut butter during pregnancy comes from an outdated recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued in 2000. The organization previously believed the best way to fight peanut allergies was to have children avoid peanut products in their first three years of life and, likewise, to have moms-to-be avoid peanuts during pregnancy. However, in 2008, the AAP found a lack of evidence to support the claim that avoiding allergens (like peanuts) during pregnancy could help prevent food allergies, so the organization rescinded its previous recommendation.

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The AAP now says there’s no data to suggest that avoiding allergens like peanuts or eggs during pregnancy decreases baby’s risk of allergies. In fact, the opposite may be true: A growing body of research has found that including peanut butter in your pregnancy diet may actually help build baby’s tolerance to allergies.

A 2014 study published in JAMA Pediatrics looked at data from over 8,000 pregnant women. It found that women who frequently ate peanuts and other nuts during pregnancy (five or more times a week) had kids who were 69 percent less likely to develop allergies to nuts than those kids whose moms ate nuts infrequently during pregnancy. The study concludes that the early exposure may have helped babies build tolerance.

These findings were supported by another study conducted by UK researchers in 2015. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, randomly assigned 640 babies with severe eczema and/or egg allergies (both known to increase the risk of peanut allergy) to either avoid or eat peanuts until they turned 5 years old. Researchers found that only 3 percent of kids who ate peanuts had allergies to them, as opposed to 17 percent of those who didn’t eat peanuts. The AAP’s current guidance around peanut consumption for pregnant women and young children is based on this study.

If you happen to be allergic to peanuts, you’re already avoiding them (or should be). Still, don’t stress about passing your allergy along. According to the Cleveland Clinic, babies can inherit a tendency to be allergic, but they don’t necessarily inherit specific allergies. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about how your specific food allergies could impact your pregnancy, and whether or not you need to be extra cautious around certain food products.

If you’re not allergic to peanuts, yes, you can absolutely enjoy the sweet, salty stickiness of PB&Js—but you may not want to overindulge, and it has nothing to do with potential allergies. “Peanuts are a good source of protein, but they also have a lot of calories,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center… And maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight plays an important role in preserving your and baby’s health.

Still, in moderation, natural peanut butter (look for the kind made of nothing but nuts and maybe a dash of salt—no sugar) can be a wholesome part of your pregnancy diet. “Peanuts are rich in folate, which is also beneficial for the baby to avoid any neural tube defects,” Parikh explains. “So enjoy the peanut butter!” (Score!)

About the experts:

Hilda Hutcherson, MD, is co-director of the New York Center for Women’s Sexual Health and a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. She received her training from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Purvi Parikh, MD, FACP, FACAAI, is an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, as well as a clinical associate professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City. She attended medical school at Saint George’s University and completed her residency at Cleveland Clinic Hospital.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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