A recent study stresses the importance of knowing when to introduce solid foods in breastfed babies in order to prevent food allergies. The study found that babies with suspected food allergies or intolerances were breastfed significantly longer than other babies; while the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding are important, it’s also important to introduce potential food allergens early so the baby can build up a tolerance.
In a study presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology on Monday, researchers at Children's National Health System in Washington D.C., analyzed data from the Infant Feeding Practices Study II, which tracked what more than 2,000 women ate during pregnancy and what they fed their babies during the first year of life.
Breastfeeding mothers were surveyed when their babies were four, nine and 12 months old and asked whether the babies had experienced allergic reactions, sensitivities or intolerance to food. The mothers reported that about 11% of the babies had a suspected food allergy or were intolerant to at least one food in their diets.
In a comparison of the babies with food allergies or intolerances to those without, the babies with no food issues were breastfed for an average of 32 weeks, while those with food intolerances were breastfed an average of 40 weeks and those with suspected food allergies, 46 weeks. These results suggest that failing to introduce solid foods into a baby’s diet at the appropriate age – perhaps because of extended exclusive breastfeeding – could lead to a greater incidence of food allergies.
Most parents are aware that the prevalence of food allergies is on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of children with food allergies in the U.S. rose from 3.4% in 1997 to just over 5% in 2011. Recent studies have suggested it might be possible to prevent egg and peanut allergies in kids by introducing them to either or both foods early in their lives. For example, researchers intrigued by the low prevalence of peanut allergies in Israel conducted a study that found peanuts are introduced as a staple early in that country.
Current recommendations are that commonly allergenic solids be introduced into babies’ diets at around six months of age, but not before four months of age. The pediatric guidelines emphasize that continued breastfeeding should be encouraged and supported because of its many health benefits. But at the same time, parents should also consider when they add solid foods to their baby's diet.