MONDAY, Nov. 18, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Giving babies solid
food while still breast-feeding, and waiting until 17 weeks to do
so, might protect the infants from food allergies, British
The overlap between starting solid foods while still
breast-feeding teaches the immune system that food is safe and
prevents food allergies, the researchers theorized.
"Mothers should continue to breast-feed beyond introducing solids into the diet so the immune system can benefit from the immunological factors in breast milk that educate the immune system," said lead researcher Kate Grimshaw, a research fellow and allergy specialist at the University of Southampton.
"My theory was that if food allergens -- those things that infants actually become allergic to -- aren't there at the same time as the breast milk, the breast milk can't educate the immune system," she said.
The researchers said they identified when this process is likely
to begin. "Introducing solid food before 17 weeks was associated
with an increased risk of children developing food allergies,"
Although other studies have found an association between when
solid food is started and the risk for food allergies, none has
established when infants are most at risk for developing food
allergies, she said.
"We have pinned down the risky period as being before 17 weeks," Grimshaw said.
The report was published Nov. 18 in the online edition of the
At least one expert questioned the conclusions, however, saying
the study doesn't prove Grimshaw's theory.
Dr. Vivian Hernandez-Trujillo, director of allergy and
immunology at Miami Children's Hospital, said the study supports
the importance of breast-feeding, but doesn't nail down why food
"Unfortunately, we still don't have all the answers when it comes to food allergies," Hernandez-Trujillo said. "It appears that breast-feeding may be protective, but we still don't know why."
Why breast milk might protect children from food allergies isn't
really known, she said. "It may have to do with [antibodies], but
that would be totally speculative," she said.
"Breast-feeding is good for the child in many different ways, and it may be helpful in possibly preventing food allergies," she said.
For the study, Grimshaw and her colleagues looked at the diets
of 41 children who developed food allergies by age 2. They compared
that with foods eaten by 82 children without food allergies.
The researchers found that the children with food allergies were
started on solid foods earlier (at about 16 weeks or younger) than
children without allergies. They also were less likely to be
breast-feeding when introduced to any form of cow's milk protein,
which is found in cow's milk and some processed foods.
"This study supports the current American Academy of Pediatrics' allergy-prevention recommendations and the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition's recommendations on complementary feeding to not introduce solid [foods] before four to six months of age," the researchers said.
"It also supports the American Academy of Pediatrics' breastfeeding recommendations that breastfeeding should continue while solid [foods] are introduced into the diet and that breastfeeding should continue for one year or longer, as mutually desired by mother and infant," they said.
For more information on breast-feeding, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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