Breast feeding may not protect infants from asthma or allergies

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breastfeeding Allergy Asthma

Exclusive and prolonged breast feeding may not protect children
from the risk of allergy and asthma, a study suggests.

Researchers writing in the British Medical Journal​ found that there was no "protective effect on prolonged or exclusive breast feeding" in a study of 17,046 mother-infant pairs in Belarus. The subject of infant nutrition and breast feeding versus infant formula is a hot topic at the moment, and the Food Standards Agency is consulting on proposed changes to UK legislation from the EU, which looks at regulating infant milk advertisements across the bloc. The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 could be implemented by the end of the year, covering a broad range of points hinged around making sure the nutritional value for any formula satisfies the nutritional requirements of the infant. Increasingly companies are looking at how they can best replicate the healthy profile of breast milk with the use of ingredients and the UK infant nutrition market is worth an estimated £329 million in 2005. In the study an experimental intervention group was set up, using methods outlined in the "baby friendly initiative", developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's FUND (UNICEF), to encourage breastfeeding. In the experimental group 72.7 per cent were still breast feeding at three months, as opposed to the control group's 60 per cent. The randomized trial then checked 13,889 of children at age 6.5 and skin prick tests taken. They found that "most of the symptoms and diagnoses were slightly more prevalent in the experimental group than the control group.​" However, they did find "borderline significant reductions in history of eczema both with more prolonged any breast feeding and with more prolonged exclusive breast feeding."​ The researchers point to several methodological problems which may have affected the evidence. Virtually all of the evidence was based on observational studies and skin testing itself can be influenced by the technique of the tester and the device used for administration, the potency of the extracts, the spacing between the antigens, the position of the arm used for placement, and even the time of day, they said. They concluded that: "the experimental intervention to promote breast feeding did not reduce the risk of asthma, hay fever, or eczema at age 6.5 years despite large increases in the duration and exclusivity of breast feeding. "These results conflict with some previous studies suggesting that prolonged and exclusive breast feeding reduces the risk of asthma, other allergic diseases, and atopy skin tests."​Source: British Medical Journal Effect of prolonged and exclusive breast feeding on risk of allergy and asthma: cluster randomised trial ​Authors: Michael Kramer, James McGill, Lidia Matush, Irina Vanilovich, Robert Platt, Natalia Bogdanovich, Zinaida Sevkovskaya, Irina Dzikovich, Gyorgy Shishko, Bruce Mazer.

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