Delaying cow's-milk formula for just three days could reduce allergies

Delaying cow's-milk formula for just three days could reduce allergies

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The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, is preliminary and more studies are needed. But the findings could eventually lead to new guidelines on formula introduction if they hold up during future research.

Ideally, it's best to breastfeed your baby exclusively until he's between 4 and 6 months old. Doing so helps strengthen your baby's immune system and may also lower his risk of developing cow's milk and some other allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

But if you're unable to exclusively breastfeed your baby or choose to formula-feed, it appears that the type of formula you use matters. Researchers in Japan tested out this theory by randomly assigning more than 300 newborn babies and their moms to two groups. In the first group, moms were instructed to breastfeed their babies for at least the first three days of life. They were allowed to give the babies amino-acid drops during this time, but nothing else. After that, they could introduce cow's milk-based formula if they wanted to, and many did.

In the second group, moms fed their babies both breast milk and formula derived from cow's milk for the first three days of life, and continued this until their babies were at least 5 months old.

All of the babies had at least one immediate family member with an allergy-related disease such as asthma, which means they were at higher-than-average risk for developing food and milk sensitivities.

The researchers followed the children until they were 2 years old, periodically testing them for cow's milk and other food allergies. Among the kids fed cow's milk-based formula from birth,32 percent developed a cow's milk allergy or sensitivity. By contrast, 17 percent of children exclusively breastfed for the first three days of life was sensitive to cow's milk.

If the exclusively breastfed babies did develop a milk allergy, they were more likely to outgrow it by 2 years old than babies fed cow's milk formula from day one, the researchers found. Other types of food allergies, such as allergies to wheat and egg, were also significantly more common among babies fed cow's milk formula from birth.

The authors hypothesized that introducing cow's milk formula at birth may interfere with the bacteria in babies' tummies, making them more prone to food allergies later on.

Nevertheless, the study was conducted at one hospital in Japan. More research is needed to see if the results can be replicated in other settings. Also, there may be other, unknown factors that influenced the babies' allergy risk that weren't taken into account.

Still, avoiding cow's milk formula for at least three days is relatively simple for most parents to implement. If you're unable to breastfeed, and if your baby is at risk for developing a food allergy, the AAAAI recommends feeding your baby hydrolyzed infant formulas instead of cow's milk and soy formulas.

Read more about protecting your child from allergies.

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