Breastfeeding mothers want to know what foods they should eat and any foods they need to avoid. Women wish to produce nutritious breast milk and steer clear of foods that can cause problems for their babies. Certain foods in a mom’s diet are believed to be responsible for making babies fussy or even causing allergic diseases in children. Now a new study suggests breastfeeding can prevent food allergies in their child when the mother consumes a somewhat surprising food.
Researchers in Sweden took a closer look at the relationship between maternal consumption of different types of food and allergies in their children. Their findings were surprising to many who counsel breastfeeding mothers about their diet.
Allergic diseases included atopic eczema, asthma, and food allergy. The study results revealed that a lower incidence of children with food allergy was associated with women who reported a higher intake of dairy products. This was surprising to some, as dairy is one of the most common food groups suspected of causing problems.
More than 500 children were included in the study at the Sunderby Hospital in northern Sweden. Their mother’s completed three questionnaires that asked about the frequency and types of food they consumed. The questionnaires were administered at the 34th week of pregnancy, one month postpartum, and four months postpartum.
Children in the study were evaluated for allergic diseases at twelve months of age. A child was diagnosed with a food allergy if they had a reaction to a food that improved when that food was eliminated from the diet.
The Big Difference
While there have been previous studies that found similar results, those were based solely on what mothers reported. This new study went a step further by verifying what mothers reported they ate by checking for biomarkers in their blood and breast milk. The biomarkers are two fatty acids formed in the cow’s stomach, which are specific to dairy products.
“Though the association is clear, we do not claim that drinking cow’s milk would be a general cure for food allergies,” said Mia Stråvik, a doctoral student in the division of food science at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden and lead author of the study, in a news release.
A child’s propensity to develop food allergies is also influenced by family history. While genetics cannot be changed, a breastfeeding mother can control her diet.
Study researchers offered two potential explanations for the lower incidence of food allergies. It could be that cow’s milk in the mother’s diet stimulates the child’s immune system to mature. Another possibility presented is that a higher intake of saturated fat in milk may result in the consumption of less polyunsaturated fats. The researchers think this could help because high levels of polyunsaturated fat in a woman’s diet can counteract the maturation of a child’s immune system at an early age.
A follow-up study is being conducted to look at the children’s health at age four.
Can Breastfeeding Prevent Food Allergies — Sources
MDPI – Maternal Intake of Cow’s Milk during Lactation Is Associated with Lower Prevalence of Food Allergy in Offspring
EurekAlert – Drinking milk while breastfeeding may reduce the child’s food allergy risk
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology – Milk and Dairy Allergy