I was speaking to my cousin recently after she had read my first blog on food intolerances and she brought to my attention a thought I had never actually considered – the link between breastfeeding and food allergies. She had recently read an article written by Karen Zeretzke who presents this very argument.
Zeretzke, who wrote this article in 1998, claims the earlier and more regularly a food is ingested by a human baby, the greater the likelihood of developing an allergy to this particular food. This means babies are most commonly allergic to foods they have been offered first. If, however, a baby is solely breastfed, the baby is only exposed to the foods the mother has eaten therefore the risk of developing allergens is significantly reduced. Zeretzke’s article, which is backed up by a number of other theorists, concludes that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for the first six months is the protection it provides from allergies. For example, she pointed out that milk allergies are seven times greater in babies who were fed artificial baby milk (baby powder) rather than being breastfed.
When I first heard these facts I dismissed them, yet the more I thought about it, the more I thought there could be some plausibility in the argument. I myself wasn’t breastfed. I was on formula and a bottle after about a week. Now I have quite a number of foods I must avoid. Then again, my younger sister was also bottle fed and she’s yet to discover any food allergies. Naturally I asked Google what it thought. As us Gen-Y-ers all know, Google has the answers. What I discovered was a completely opposing, more recent opinion on this whole debate.
Experts now believe breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months may not be particularly beneficial for babies. The current advice suggests babies should be weaned at six months, however experts are now saying solid food could be introduced as early as four months. In fact, they suggest the later the baby is weaned, the higher the risk of food allergies and iron deficiency levels.
As this argument was presented only last January, the debate still rages about which is really better for babies. Should we be weaning at four months, six months, or when the mother feels the baby is ready? Do those few months really have a big impact on whether or not a child will develop food allergies?
It’s an interesting and complex question, and I would be interested to see what your opinions are on this particular topic. If you want to read more about these arguments, the Zeretzke article can be found here and the BBC news article from last January can be explored here