The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week. All parents want to provide the best nutrition they possibly can for their babies, but parents of children with food allergies or who are concerned about the risk their child developing food allergies have special concerns about breastfeeding. Here are the answers to some of your questions:
Is breastfeeding safe for a baby at risk for food allergies?
If your baby is at risk for developing food allergies, breastfeeding for at least 4 months can actually lower your baby's risk of developing food allergies. Both cow-milk formulas and soy formulas carry a higher risk of food allergies for at-risk babies. There are special hypoallergenic formulas available that may help to reduce the risk of developing allergies for babies who can not be breastfed, but the risk is still higher than with human milk.
Do I have to avoid allergenic foods while I am breastfeeding?
Some babies may react to food proteins found in mother's milk. Some babies with eczema that is triggered by food have been found to have fewer flare-ups when their mothers avoid their food allergens. This is rare, however. Most mothers do not need to avoid eating even highly allergenic foods like peanuts while breastfeeding. There have not been any studies that have found a link between mothers eating common food allergens while nursing and an increased risk of their babies developing food allergies.
If your baby has already developed food allergies, you may find that you do need to avoid your child's allergens while breastfeeding. If this happens, be sure to consult with a nutritionist. Breastfeeding mothers need extra calories and nutrition, and need to eat a wide variety of foods to stay healthy.
How long should I breastfeed to prevent food allergies?
The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, and beyond that as long as "mutually desired" by mother and baby. However, you should begin to introduce solid foods between 4 and 6 months, especially if your baby is at risk for developing food allergies. Recent studies have found that delaying the introduction of solids past six months of age may actually increase the risk of developing food allergies.
That said, the best you can possibly do at this point in time is to try to reduce the risk of your baby developing food allergies. There is no foolproof way to prevent food allergies.
Breastfeeding confers a wide variety of health benefits for both mother and baby. Most importantly for parents concerned about food allergies, breastfeeding helps to build a healthy immune system.
This post is part of the World Breastfeeding Week Blog Carnival.