Study Supports Continuing Breastfeeding While Introducing Solid Foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics released the results of a study that shows that waiting at least 17 weeks before introducing solids into an infant’s diet—and then continuing breastfeeding while introducing solids—can lower the chance of the infant developing food allergies.

The study, conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of Southampton and the University of Manchester, compared the diets of 41 children who had developed food allergies by two years of age with the diets of 82 children without food allergies. Prospective food diaries prepared by the parents were utilized in gathering the data.

Results showed that the children who ultimately developed food allergies had solid or semi-solid foods introduced into their diets earlier than the children without allergies. Based on the food diaries, 35 percent of food-allergic infants were introduced to solid foods before 17 weeks of age, while only 14 percent of non-allergic children were introduced to complementary foods before that time.

These findings suggested that, after 17 weeks, a “nonallergen-specific tolerogenic immunologic mechanism” kicks in, which promotes tolerance.  With the foods most commonly introduced at that age being rice, apples, bananas, and pears, the study also suggested that epigenetic or immunologic mechanisms may also be at play, as these fruits have been shown to modify immune responses in children.

The study suggested that continuing breastfeeding while introducing solids can have an increased effect on building infants’ tolerance to certain foods, as many of the food-allergic infants were no longer breastfeeding when solid food and cow’s milk were introduced. Increased tolerance, suggested the study, could be the result of the allergen-specific immunoglobulins in breast milk, which can continue to educate the immune system when given in conjunction with solid foods.

This study supports the current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that state breastfeeding should continue while solids are introduced into the diet and that breastfeeding should continue for one year or longer. The World Health Organization recommends that breastfeeding continue in conjunction with solid foods until the child reaches 2 years old.

While more research is required to determine the ideal duration, the study states that health professionals should encourage exclusive breastfeeding for as long as possible, followed by the introduction of solid foods in conjunction with breast milk.