How exactly are breastfeeding and nut allergies related? Does breastfeeding cause nut allergies? Or do babies with a family history of nut allergies breastfeed for longer? These are the questions that food allergy experts are currently asking.
In terms of recommendations for breastfeeding and nut allergies, groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) urge women to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life. Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months are less likely to suffer from infections and other health problems such as obesity. However, the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies is still unclear.
Some research says that breastfeeding reduces the risk of nut allergies. However, other research indicates that the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies is causal.
For example, a recent study from the Australian National University caused a serious controversy when the researchers concluded that babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life had an increased risk of developing potentially fatal peanut allergies.
As Marjan Kljakovic, the lead author of the study and a Professor of General Practice, says about the supposed link between breastfeeding and nut allergies:
“Despite breastfeeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breastfeeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy.”
However, other food allergies experts warn that the study might not be telling the whole story about the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies.
As Professor Katie Allen, pediatric gastroenterologist and food allergy researcher with Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, argues:
“That is just not true. We believe that breastfeeding neither causes nor prevents food allergy.
It is true that it appears that people who have [a family history of] nut allergies are breastfeeding longer, but we strongly believe that is due to the fact that these people have been reading previous guidelines that recommend that breastfeeding prevents allergy.”
In other words, the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies that appears to be causal is just correlational. Babies with a family history of nut allergies are more likely to be breastfed longer, which makes breastfeeding appear to be the cause of later allergies. In reality, though, the child was predisposed for a nut allergy; breastfeeding had nothing to do with the development of the allergy.
Additionally, the study from Australian National University failed to take into account the mothers’ diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, Kljakovic still recommended that women avoid nuts and peanuts while pregnant or breastfeeding.
As Allen comments:
“The report only asked if they were breastfeeding or not, not about maternal dietary practices. Therefore the authors cannot conclude, in any way whatsoever, about maternal dietary practices including exposure to nuts and its risk of peanut allergy.”
In other words, the study linking breastfeeding and nut allergies as having a causal relationship is too flawed to draw any legitimate conclusions. More likely, the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies is a result of mothers with a family history of food allergies delaying the introduction of solid foods.
Both WHO and NHMRC recommend delaying solid foods until six months of age to prevent health problems including food allergies.
What do you think about the study that links breastfeeding and nut allergies?