Breastmilk has long been known to provide a wealth of benefits to babies, from complete nutrition to a wonderful bonding experience.
But does it affect the risk of your baby developing food allergies?
There are many factors that come into play when evaluating a baby’s risk of developing allergies - including genetics, maternal diet, and food introduction. When it comes to breast milk, research provides inconclusive evidence that breastfeeding alone can help prevent food allergies, though it does play a role in strengthening the immune system.
Here’s what parents need to know about breastfeeding and allergies!
There are five antibodies in breast milk that are essential in helping the body stay healthy. These antibodies (immunoglobulins) can provide many great benefits for growing babies, including helping to fight off germs, illness, and disease.
Not only will these immune-boosting substances continue to protect your child for as long as they breastfeed, but in the years after as well.
Babies get necessary nutrients, vitamins, and fats from breast milk as well as food proteins from the foods the mother is consuming. If mothers consume allergenic foods while breastfeeding, their baby may gain some level of exposure to allergens.
For concerned parents, there is no evidence of an increased risk of allergies developing when consuming allergenic foods while breastfeeding.
Recent research has shown no association between maternal exclusion diets and the prevention of allergies. The latest guidelines from allergy researchers do not recommend that mothers avoid common allergens in their diet during pregnancy and lactation as a means to prevent food allergy.
Breastfeeding will not alone prevent food allergies in babies, unfortunately. If you look at data between breastfed versus formula-fed babies, there is no direct benefit for food allergy prevention afforded by breastfeeding your baby.
However, eczema is the number one risk for a baby to develop a food allergy and we do know that breastfeeding has been found to protect against eczema in the first 3 months of life. Therefore, breastfeeding can reduce some risk factors and can contribute to improving your baby's tolerance.
While breastmilk provides amazing immune system benefits, early allergen introduction is essential to help ensure your baby gets the best head start when it comes to allergies.
According to landmark studies like EAT and LEAP, early and sustained introduction of allergenic foods should begin at the critical window of 4-6 months.
During this time, the baby’s immune system starts to develop positive or negative responses to food proteins introduced to their diet.
The bottom line: There is no connection between breastmilk and an increased risk of developing allergies. In fact, breastfeeding for the first four to six months helps strengthen the immune system.