Parents who feed their infants solid foods or cow’s milk before the age of four months could put them at lower risk for peanut allergy, according to a new study.
Researchers said introducing solids early on could ‘kick-start’ the immune system, making children with a family history of allergies about five times less likely to develop sensitivity.
In contrast, experts generally recommend mothers breastfeed infants for the first six months because it is the best form of nutrition.
The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology last month, was conducted on 594 children, whose mothers were interviewed about feeding practices when they were one, six, and 12 months old.
Reuters Health reports blood samples were taken from children ages two and three years old and tested for antibodies against peanut, egg and milk.
‘Eleven per cent of those tested were found to be at an increased risk of developing an allergy to peanut.
‘The risk of sensitivity was lower among children whose parents had allergies or asthma, if they had been started on solid food or cow’s milk before the age of four month,’ according to reports.
Just under six per cent of those tested had peanut sensitivity, compared to 16 per cent of those whose mothers introduced solid foods or cow’s milk later.
The findings were not consistent among children who did not have a family history of allergy.
Lead researcher Christine Joseph, an epidemiologist at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said the study did not, however, prove early introduction of solid foods prevents peanut allergies.
Ms Joseph told Reuters Health: ‘Intuitively, it does seem like the opposite of what you’d expect.’
She explained early exposure to solids and cows milk could ‘kick start’ the immune system and make children more tolerant of peanuts.
Controversy over what infant feeding methods might cut risk of food allergies has long been subject to debate.
Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended parents not feed children cow’s milk until age one.
That decision was reversed in 2008, after studies showed no evidence it lowered allergy risks.
It’s estimated that just over one percent of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts.