Bringing up baby: how best to avoid allergy

A new study led by Dr Kirsi Laitinen and colleagues at the University of Turku, Finland, involving a collaboration of Finland, England, Germany, Hungary and Spain has shown that only 10% of mothers are aware of the connection between allergy and the way babies are fed during their first year. The idea that breastfeeding and delaying introduction of solids can help to minimise potential allergy in babies is not getting through to mothers, despite being widely accepted in the scientific community. Presenting the research at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) congress 2011 in Istanbul, Dr Laitinen said that they had questioned first time mothers from all five countries in the weeks after they had given birth. Most understood the link between how the infant is fed and future health, but not future allergy implications. When the question was asked as “Do you think childhood diet is likely to be linked to conditions such as allergy, heart disease and diabetes” the level of awareness was higher.

The reasons for poor awareness could be because the information that most mothers receive comes from health workers and leaflets – meaning these need to be updated with new findings. In a follow up survey carried out when the children were eight years old, the team found that most mothers had made a decision very early on in the baby’s lives as to how they’d be fed, which highlights the importance of the healthcare worker role. If healthcare workers can be encouraged to raise awareness of the importance of feeding on future allergy risk, such as by supporting breastfeeding and providing advice on how to feed infants appropriately, this could have a positive impact on the future health of children.

Another study looking at the varying prevalence of food allergy in 12,000 children, called EuroPrevall, funded by the European Commission, has found that cultural and geographical differences have an impact.

Kate Grimshaw from the University of Southampton, one of the participating centres, says that the research showed that there are cultural differences for breast-feeding, giving formula in the first year of life and how/when solids are introduced. National infant recommendations also vary country to country. Nine countries were involved in this study, with infants from Iceland, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Spain, Italy and Greece. Information on infant feeding was collected using a standardised questionnaire detailing when breastfeeding commenced and how long for, and at what age babies started on solids. Possible allergic reactions were monitored and infants with suspected allergies were clinically assessed. These data could help to show whether feeding differences have a role to play in the development of allergy, and whether these vary region to region. This information will in turn help to prevent allergies developing.

Source: European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

More research on infants and children

First Published in June 2011

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