Australian children breast fed in the first six months of life are at an increased risk of developing a parent-reported nut allergy, a study has found.
Conversely, the study found that a protective effect against parent-reported nut allergy was found in children who were given food or fluids other than breast milk before six months either exclusively or in combination with breast milk.
The study was a joint research project between the Australian National University’s (ANU) Medical School, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Health Directorate.
Researchers investigated a link between breast-feeding and nut allergies using the ACT Kindergarten Health Check Questionnaire given to the parents of children starting primary school in the Territory.
Parents were asked to report if the child had a nut allergy, and on feeding habits in the first six months of life. The study found that rates of nut allergies in ACT children were increasing.
“Some 3.9% of children starting school in the ACT have a parent-reported nut allergy, which is almost twice the rate of British children of the same age,” said Marjan Kljakovic, the study’s author and Professor of General Practice at the ANU Medical School.
The likelihood of developing a nut allergy was 1.5 times higher in children who were solely breast fed in the first six months of life, than in children who were exposed to other foods and fluids, the study said.
“Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children – it may, in fact, be causative of allergy,” Kljakovic said.
“Over time, health authorities’ recommendations for infant feeding habits have changed, recommending complementary foods such as solids and formula be introduced later in life."
“Despite breast feeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breast feeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy."
According to Kljakovic, peanut allergy accounts for two-thirds of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions. “It is important for us to understand how feeding practices might be playing a part.”
International Journal of Pediatrics
'Infant Feeding Practices and Nut Allergy over Time in Australian School Entrant Children'
Authors: Jessic Paton, Marjan Kljakovic, Karen Cizek, and Pauline Ding