The age at which a baby is offered her first solid food may affect the likelihood that she develops food allergies later in childhood, according to new research by British scientists. Breastfeeding exclusively for 4-6 months, then introducing solid foods while still breastfeeding, the researchers found, is the best way to prevent food allergies from developing. More from The New York Times:
British researchers followed a group of 1,140 infants from birth to 2 years, while their mothers completed diaries detailing the babies' diets and noting suspected allergic reactions to food, which researchers later confirmed by testing. They found 41 babies with confirmed food allergies, and compared them with 82 age-matched healthy controls. All were born between January 2006 and October 2007.
After controlling for birth weight, the duration of pregnancy, maternal allergies and many other factors, they found that 17 weeks was the crucial age: babies who were introduced to solids before this age were significantly more likely to develop food allergies.
The study, published online in Pediatrics, found that continuing to breast-feed while introducing cow's milk also had a protective effect against allergies. The authors suggest that the immunologic factors in breast milk are what provide the advantage.
The researchers advised that mothers who are not breastfeeding also wait until after 17 weeks to introduce solids.
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