Giving infants solid food with breast milk after the 17th week of birth could reduce food allergies in babies, say researchers from the University of Southampton (UK).
Lead researcher Kate Grimshaw says that giving the baby solid food as well as breast feeding helps the infant develop a better, stronger immune system to fight food allergies. "Introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding can benefit the immune system," she explains. "It appears the immune system becomes educated when there is an overlap of solids and breast milk because the milk promotes tolerogenic mechanisms against the solids."
The study involved 1,140 infants, 41 of who went onto to develop a food allergy by the time they were two years of age. The diet of these infants was compared with the diet of infants who did not develop food allergy by the time they were two.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggest 17 weeks is a crucial time point, with solid food introduction before this time appearing to promote allergic disease whereas solid food introduction after that time point seems to promote tolerance.
"Children who had developed allergies began eating solid food earlier than children with no allergies - roughly, at age 16 weeks or earlier," explained Grimshaw. "Children with allergies were also more likely to not be being breastfed when the mother introduced cow's milk protein, from any source. Women who are not breastfeeding are encouraged to introduce solids after 17 weeks of age."
This new research supports the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics who urge mothers not to introduce solid foods before four to six months of age. Furthermore the findings also support the American Academy of Pediatrics' breastfeeding recommendations that breastfeeding should continue while solid foods are introduced into the diet.
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Source: University of Southampton