Mothers who fear their child might have food allergies tend to exclusively breastfeed their newborns for longer – but that could raise their risk of reactions, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed 2,586 breastfeeding mothers and tracked the health of their babies.
Those who introduced ‘trigger’ foods, such as peanuts and eggs, from about seven months had a lower risk of allergies, the study found.
Mothers who feared a reaction tended to wait longer, exclusively breastfeeding until they were around 10 months old.
Coincidentally, those were the kids who were more likely to develop intolerances and allergies to certain foods.
Researchers can’t say for certain whether the delay is to blame, or simply that the mothers’ instincts were right.
But the findings fall in line with a growing swell of research that suggests early exposure to trigger foods could be key for building up resilience.
A study led by the FDA and CDC found introducing trigger foods early could be crucial
Lead study author Dr Karen Robbins, an allergist at Children’s National Health System in San Francisco, said: ‘Breastfeeding a newborn for the first few months of life helps their developing immune system become more robust, may affect the microbiome, and could influence or prevent development of allergy later in life.
‘However, mothers’ perceptions of their newborns’ adverse reactions to food appears to factor into how long they breastfeed.’
She raised concerns that extended breastfeeding could impact on mothers introducing solid food to their babies.
Dr Robbins said: ‘Gradually transitioning to solid food gives infants an opportunity to sample an array of foods, nibble by nibble, including food allergens like peanut and eggs.
‘We know from previously published research that introducing high-risk babies to a food allergen like peanuts early in life appropriately primes their immune system and dramatically decreases how often these children actually develop peanut allergies.
‘The relationship between breastfeeding and allergy development is complex, so understanding mothers’ practices is important.
‘We also do not know how often these early reactions result in true food allergy, compared with transient food intolerance.’
Her research team made their findings by analyzing data from The Infant Feeding Practices Study II from 2005 to 2007.
The study was led by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It tracked diet and feeding practices of about 2,000 women late in their pregnancies and followed their babies’ diets through the first year of life.
Some 2,586 breastfeeding mothers in the study completed surveys when their infants were four, nine and 12 months old.
They were asked whether there were problems caused by food, such as an allergic reaction, sensitivity or intolerance.
The majority of these infants (84.6 percent) had no suspected allergic reaction to either food they ate on their own or to food they were exposed to via breast milk.
The mothers reported that nearly 11 percent of infants reacted to something they ate; 2.4 percent reacted to food products they were exposed to via breast milk; and 2.4 percent reacted to both food they consumed directly or were exposed to via breastfeeding.
They also found infants with suspected food allergies after exposure to food their mothers ate were breastfed a mean of 45.8 weeks; infants with food intolerance after both exposure to food their mother consumed and food they ate themselves were breastfed a mean of 40.2 weeks; and infants with no concern for food reactions, who were breastfed a mean of 32 weeks.
Food allergies are a growing public health concern, affecting between four to six percent of US children, according to the CDC.
But little is known about the links between mothers’ perceived food allergies, babies’ hypersensitivity to foods and how long they’re breastfed.
The study’s findings have been presented during the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting.