Pregnancy and early motherhood are beautiful moments in life, but are also stressful, sleep-deprived, and sometimes full of concerns about your baby. When I consult with pregnant and/or new moms about how to approach food allergy protection, I’m most often asked these two questions:
- Can eating a diverse diet full of common allergens during pregnancy protect my baby from developing a food allergy?
- Can breastfeeding protect against a food allergy?
The shortest, simplest answer is: a diverse diet during pregnancy is encouraged (don’t restrict common allergens!), yet that combined with nursing, may not reduce the risk of food allergies. Of course, we always want expecting moms to nourish themselves with healthy, diverse foods at baseline. It just won’t likely be enough to protect a baby from developing a food allergy later in life.
We do know that we want moms to incorporate foods that commonly cause allergies (nuts, egg, shellfish & fish in moderation, dairy, soy, etc.) when pregnant. But we also know it will take an intentional feeding plan after your baby is born to help reduce food allergy risk, too.
When it comes to breastfeeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive nursing for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant. This is not to stress you – let me be clear here: breastfeeding is awesome AND so is formula-feeding. I always say that a fed baby makes a happy mom and baby.
However, nursing does have one major benefit in reducing food allergies. In 2019, the AAP published a clinical report highlighting that “exclusive breastfeeding for the first 3 to 4 months helps protect against eczema during a child’s first two years of life.” This plays a big role in food allergy protection because children with severe eczema can be as much as 600% more likely to develop a food allergy.
If you are breastfeeding, please continue to do so (!!!) while incorporating diverse foods into your child’s daily routine around 4-6 months of age. Don’t delay the introduction of foods that are common allergens, as we know that waiting on introduction can increase a child’s risk of developing an allergy. There is no need to wean your child off breastfeeding when you start including solid foods in his/her diet as you grow the balance of their diet diversity. The same goes for formula feeding! Let your babies eat and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy it.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician, mom to two boys, and the Chief Medical Officer at SpoonfulOne. SpoonfulOne is a line of nutritional products designed to help stop a food allergy before it starts.*
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