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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 00:08 GMT
Infant allergy advice questioned
Allergy test
A child is tested for allergic reactions.
Doubt has been cast over advice that giving solid food to babies under six months increases the risk of allergies.

The Department of Health advises mothers to breast feed their child for its first six months.

One study backs this, showing infants given solids are three times more likely to develop an allergy, but another shows it to have no bearing.

Both articles, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, are the focus of an editorial calling for more research.

A commentary by two allergy specialists, Dr Abbass Khakoo and Dr Gideon Lack at St Mary's Hospital, say further studies are needed before an authoritative statement can be issued.

The first study was conducted by a team at the University of Surrey.

High risk

They looked at whether infants fed solids in their first four months were more likely to develop eczema.

Researchers looked at 257 premature babies from three maternity wards in Hampshire and Surrey.

They studied premature infants because no specific allergy prevention guidelines yet exist for feeding babies born before full term.

When infants turned one, they were examined by a paediatrician for signs of eczema.

Results showed introduced to four or more solid foods in their first 17 weeks had a three-fold risk of developing eczema.

It also showed boys to be at higher risk than girls.

The authors conclude feeding practices for pre-term infants should reflect the advice for full-term infants, that they be given solids at least four months after birth.

No risk

The second study, conducted by a team from the University Children's Hospital in Munich, Germany and the Imperial College of Science and Technology, looked at 642 children from Ashford, Kent.

We advise that when women begin weaning, they introduce food that are least allergenic first, such as vegetables, pureed bananas and pears, and avoid cows milk, fish and egg until later.
Maureen Jenkins, Allergy Nurse, Allergy UK

They followed them from birth until they reached around five and a half years of age.

Researchers looked at whether introducing solid food after six months reduced the risk of asthma, allergic reactions and eczema.

They used skin prick tests to identify those with allergic reactions, and questionnaires to identify those who developed asthma or eczema.

They found infants who were fed solids late had no protective effect on the development of these allergies.

In the study, 62% of children were breastfed, and 30% were breast fed exclusively for two months.

Most children were introduced to rice, fruit, vegetables and cereal in their first four months. Meat, fish and milk were introduced in the majority at five to six months, and egg was introduced last at eight.

Researchers also found feeding practices among children with asthmatic parents did not affect whether or not they developed the allergy.

In light of their findings, the authors conclude that infant feeding guidelines aimed at preventing allergies may have to be revised.

Advice

Maureen Jenkins, allergy nurse consultant at charity Allergy UK said: "We advise women try to breast feed for six months before weaning, but understand this can be difficult.

"Mothers often introduce foods during this period because the child is hungry, and they want to fill it up.

"We also advise that when women begin weaning, they introduce food that are least allergenic first, such as vegetables, pureed bananas and pears, and avoid cows milk, fish and egg until later."

It is believe introducing solid foods to infants at an early age could trigger allergies, as they are effectively foreign items to the child, and may be too much for the immune system to deal with.


SEE ALSO:
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