Does exclusive breastfeeding cause food allergies to nuts? According to a recent study from the Australian National University, yes, babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are at an increased risk of developing a nut allergy. The study discovered that the likelihood of developing a nut allergy was 1.5 times higher in children who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life compared to children who were exposed to other foods and fluids. Protection against food allergies to nuts was found in children who were fed food and fluids other than breast milk during the first six months.
As Marjan Kljakovic, the lead author of the study and a Professor of General Practice at the ANU Medical School, states:
“Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children – it may, in fact, be causative of allergy.”
However, food allergy experts are questioning the study. Professor Katie Allen, a pediatric gastroenterologist and food allergy researcher with Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, comments:
“That is just not true. We believe that breastfeeding neither causes nor prevents food allergy.
It is true that it appears that people who have [a family history of] nut allergies are breastfeeding longer, but we strongly believe that is due to the fact that these people have been reading previous guidelines that recommend that breastfeeding prevents allergy.”
In other words, babies with a family history of nut allergies are more likely to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months than babies without a family history of nut allergies. The link between breastfeeding and nut allergies, therefore, is family history, not a cause and effect relationship.
As Allen further states:
“Breastfeeding is best, there’s absolutely no risk about that. We don’t think it will prevent allergies, but it certainly won’t increase the risk of allergies.”
One of the major problems with the study that links breastfeeding to nut allergies is that the researchers did not take maternal diet into consideration. Says Allen:
“The report only asked if they were breastfeeding or not, not about maternal dietary practices. Therefore the authors cannot conclude, in any way whatsoever, about maternal dietary practices including exposure to nuts and its risk of peanut allergy.”
According to groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
Flawed research aside, Allen concludes that exclusive breastfeeding is not the cause of an increased risk for nut allergies:
“Parents can be reassured that what they eat during pregnancy and lactation, at this point in time, appears to have no effect whatsoever on their [future child's] allergic risk.”
Did you exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life? Does your child have a nut allergy?
Breastfeeding link to nut allergies challenged: http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2012/07/19/3548843.htm
Link between breastfeeding and nut allergies questioned: http://www.inquisitr.com/280205/link-between-breastfeeding-and-nut-allergies-questioned/
Study links breast milk to nut allergies: http://news.anu.edu.au/?p=15931
Peanut Products: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peanut_products.jpg