Breastfeeding for longer due to food allergy fears could expose baby to food allergy risk

New research has revealed mums who are concerned about food allergies tend to breast feed their babies for longer [Photo: Getty]

Additional reporting by SWNS.

Experts have raised concerns that mums who breastfeed their babies for longer due to fears over food allergies could actually be exposing them to a greater risk of developing them.

That’s according to a new study of 2,586 breastfeeding mothers, who raised concerns that mums who fear their babies may have food allergies could be delaying starting their babies on solids.

But previous research has revealed that gradually introducing babies to solid foods, such as peanuts and eggs, could decrease how often they develop allergies to them.

The study, led by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), analysed data from The Infant Feeding Practices Study II from 2005 to 2007.

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, asking the mothers to complete 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 breastmilk.

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 breastmilk; and 2.4 percent reacted to both food they consumed directly or were exposed to via breastfeeding.

Mums who are concerned about food allergies tend to delay started their babies on solids and instead breast feed for longer [Photo: Getty]

The findings, presented during the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2019 Annual Meeting, revealed that infants with no suspected food allergies were breastfed for 32 weeks – seven-and-a-half months – on average.

This was three months shorter than infants whose mums feared they had food allergies – an average of 45.8 weeks.

The average was 40.2 weeks for those who suspected food intolerance in infants through exposure to solid food and foods transmitted via breastmilk.

Commenting on the findings, 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.”

Dr Robbins is concerned that extended breastfeeding could impact on when mothers introduce solid food to their babies.

“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,” she explained.

“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.”

But more research is needed to fully explore the topic further and learn more about the relationship between food allergies and what, when and how children eat.

Researchers said that little is known about the association between perceived food allergies, intolerance or hypersensitivity among babies eating their first bites of solid food and how long they’re breastfed.

“The relationship between breastfeeding and allergy development is complex, so understanding mothers’ practices is important,” she says.

Study authors were also keen to point out that they can’t say for certain whether the delay in introducing solid foods is to blame, or simply that the mothers’ instincts were right.

“We also do not know how often these early reactions result in true food allergy, compared with transient food intolerance.”

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