Delaying the introduction of cow’s milk may increase, rather than decrease, the risk that a child will develop allergies in the first 2 years of life, researchers from the Netherlands report.
They note that one of the most widely recommended allergy prevention strategies is delaying the introduction of milk and solid foods into the infant’s diet. However, there is little scientific evidence to support this advice.
To investigate, Dr. Bianca E. P. Snijders, at Maastricht University, and her colleagues analyzed data from 2558 infants.
Mothers provided information late in pregnancy and at 3, 7, 12, and 24 months after delivery regarding foods they ate and any allergy symptoms they experienced. The infants were tested for allergy symptoms at 2 years of age.
Tests showed that delaying the introduction of cow’s milk products beyond 9 months significantly increased the risk of eczema, a chronic skin condition characterized by dry patches of very itchy skin.
Delayed introduction of other food products for more than 7 months also markedly increased the risk of eczema as well as the risk of atopic dermatitis and recurrent wheeze.
Excluding infants with early symptoms of eczema and recurrent wheeze “did not essentially change our results,” Snijders’ team notes in the journal Pediatrics.
“Although breastfeeding remains definitely favorable for the infant’s health,” they add, the value of withholding other foods to prevent allergies “is questionable.”
However, they conclude, based on current knowledge, that “it may be too early to change the current guidelines on the introduction of cow milk.”