A recent Australian study has established that babies, who exclusively breastfeed during the first six months of their lives, are more likely to develop a nut allergy – when compared to those who are gradually introduced to food before six months.
The study which was recently published in the International Journal of Paediatrics — examined a sample of more than 15,000 Australian preschool children and studied the link between exclusive breastfeeding and the incidence of nut allergy.
Using the ACT Kindergarten Health Check Questionnaire, the researchers obtained data regarding the child’s breastfeeding duration and allergies. From here the researchers found that 3.2 percent of the study subjects were allergic to peanuts, while 3.9 percent were allergic to other nuts.
According to professor of General Practice, Marjan Kljakovic, from the Australian National University (ANU), infants who are only breastfed during their first six months are 1.5 times more likely to experience nut allergies than their British peers.
Kljakovic says the study suggests that nut traces in breastmilk may be the issue and not the breast milk in isolation.
“It is probably little fragments of nuts, proteins from nuts that mum has been eating. It is not the breastmilk itself, it is the other microscopic amounts of proteins and so on that you get from eating nuts,” says Kljakovic.
Breast is still best
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Spokeswoman, Meredith Laverty says, she fears that the study may dissuade mothers with food allergies from breastfeeding.
“There have been studies of this kind before, and we still maintain, along with World Health Organisation guidelines, that breastfeeding benefits far outweigh any potential harm for both mother and baby,” Laverty says.
“We have to see a body of significant research to change our view – most research, actually does recommend that breastfeeding is still best,” she adds. “In fact most studies suggest breastfeeding can actually reduce allergies the longer babies are breastfed.
Kjlakovic says that this study does not suggest that breastfeeding should be withdrawn. Rather, she advises moms to refrain from any intake of nuts during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
“Our results contribute to the argument that breastfeeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children – it may, in fact, be causative of allergy.”
Laverty, sceptical about these findings added that the study was ambiguous providing no information about the number of parents who had allergies. She advised worried parents to consult with nutritionists and dieticians for further professional feedback.
Kljokovic suggests that this study will pave the way for medical research relating to the newfound link between breastfeeding and serious food allergies. Kljokovic warns, however, that this particular finding is not evidence of nut allergies being solely induced by breast milk.
“Peanut allergy accounts for two-thirds of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions,” says Kljokovic. “It is important for us to understand how feeding practices might be playing a part.”
The ABA highly advises moms and dads not to discount the health benefits related to breastfeeding babies. They highly recommend breastfeeding for at least the first six months.
World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines about exclusive breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing the necessary energy and nutrients for baby’s development. Evidence suggests that it is best to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months. After six months, babies may be introduced to solids, while remaining breastfed for up to two or more years of age.
The World Health Organisation recommends:
- Breastfeeding within baby’s first hour of life
- Exclusive breastfeeding (no intake of other liquids or food other than breast milk—including water) – regardless of mother’s HIV status
- Breastfeeding on demand
- Not to use bottles, teats and pacifiers – the breast is central at this stage.
During the first few months of a baby’s life, breast milk provides all nutrients and energy fundamental to a baby’s development. After six months, it provides up to more than half of your baby’s nutritional needs. During the second year, breast milk accounts for about a third of your baby’s needs. Breast milk protects baby from infection and chronic disease — even reducing the risk of childhood mortality. Breast milk also encourages a speedy recover when baby is ill.
Exclusive breastfeeding in South Africa
Research suggests that South Africa has the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the world — sitting at eight percent. This is due to a lack of information regarding the importance of breastfeeding and fear that HIV positive mothers have of passing it on to their baby.
Fortunately, evidence shows that when both mother and baby take antiretroviral (ARV) medication, the likelihood of HIV transmission from mother to baby is almost completely eliminated. This finding has lead the WHO to revise their recommendations about exclusive breastfeeding.
HIV positive mothers are now reassured that they should also breastfeed their babies. Replacement feeding methods are no longer used — since ARV medication has now become more widely accessible across South Africa.
To reduce your baby’s risk of nut allergy, avoid nuts during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Although other experts such as Laverty are sceptical about this study, both conclude that breastfeeding forms an integral part of your baby’s nutritional health.
The World Health Organisations strongly advises breastfeeding for all mothers including HIV positive mothers.