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Breast Feeding

Food Allergies and Breast Feeding

Development and Prevention of Food Allergies by Breast Feeding

The role of breastfeeding and its impact in causing or preventing allergies in children continues to be studied with sometimes conflicting results. Generally, all studies indicate that breastfeeding, regardless of its potential impact on allergies, should be encouraged unless otherwise instructed by a physician.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases organized an Expert Panel representing 34 professional organizations, federal agencies, and patient advocacy groups to develop and publish, in December 2010, “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States1” In a section dedicated to maternal diet during pregnancy and breast feeding, the Expert Panel does not recommend restricting maternal diet during breast feeding as a strategy for preventing the development of food allergies. The Expert Panel recommends that all infants be exclusively breast-fed until 4 to 6 months of age, unless breastfeeding is contraindicated for medical reasons.

On the other hand, the Expert Panel also acknowledges that there is no strong evidence that breast-feeding has a protective role in preventing food allergies. To further strengthen that conclusion, a recent study indicates that breast-feeding may actually increase the chances of a child developing a food allergy. In the August 2011 edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the results of a study that followed 970 children since birth indicated children that had been breast fed were at a 1.5 times higher risk of developing a food sensitivity than those children that had never been breast-fed.2

Allergic Reaction caused by Breast Feeding

Regardless of how a child develops a food allergy, breast-feeding may also cause an allergic reaction in a child. Some breast-fed children are so sensitive to a certain food, that if the mother eats that food, sufficient quantities enter the breast milk to cause a reaction in the child. In this situation, where “hidden allergens” are present in the mother’s breast milk, the mothers themselves must avoid eating those foods to which the baby is allergic.3 In the event a child develops food allergy symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, eczema, bronchitis, or asthma, the mother may consider it advisable to abstain from all dairy products, eggs, peanuts, and soya protein (the most common food allergies in children4) in an effort to minimize these potential problems in her infant until the child can be tested for food allergies. To identify or confirm a potential food allergy, an allergist will often use a “skin prick test” during which concentrated solutions of potential allergens, such as peanuts, wheat, eggs, and dairy are placed upon small scratches on the skin. The resulting skin reaction will allow specific food allergies to be identified.

While breast feeding does not seem to prevent food allergies, and may increase the chances of developing, or having a reaction to, a food allergy, the author feels obligated to reiterate the benefits of breast-feeding. As listed below, and supported by clinical studies available at, the benefits of breast feeding far outweigh the challenges related to food allergies.

Benefits of Breast Feeding:

  1. Protects Against Infection

    1. Diarrhea
    2. Haemophilus Influenza
    3. Enhances Vaccine Response
    4. NEC – necrotizing enterocolitis
    5. Otitis Media
    6. Herpes Simplex
    7. Respiratory Syncytical Virus (RSV)
    8. Respiratory Infections

  2. Protects Against Illnesses

    1. General
    2. Immunologic Development
    3. Wheezing
    4. SIDS
    5. General Morbidity (Sickness)
    6. AIDS
    7. Infant Survival
    8. Gastroesophageal Reflex
    9. Multiple Sclerosis
    10. Inguinal Hernia
    11. Cryptorchidism (Undescended Testicle)

  3. Protection From Allergies

    1. Allergic Families – lower incidence of wheezing, and prolonged colds
    2. Eczema

  4. Enhances Development and Intelligence

    1. Higher IQ.
    2. Cognitive Development
    3. Social Development

  5. Long Term Benefits for Infants

    1. Dental Health
    2. Toddler Health
    3. Diabetes Mellitus
    4. Childhood Cancer
    5. Chron’s Disease
    6. Hodgkin’s Disease
    7. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA)
  6. Citations


    Boyce, J. et al. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

    Volume 126, Issue 6, Pages 1105-1118, December 2010


    Hong, X. et al. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

    Volume 128, Issue 2, Pages 374-381.e2, August 2011.


    Caminoa, M. et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

    Volume 125, Issue 2, Supplement 1, Page AB221, February 2010


    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (July 2004).

    “Food Allergy: An Overview”.

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