If you ever needed an excuse to drink a tall glass of milky Milo, this is it. New research has found that drinking cow’s milk while breastfeeding may reduce your baby’s risk of developing food allergies.
More than 500 Swedish mums were surveyed for the Chalmers University of Technology study, which delved into the mums’ eating habits and whether their babies had allergies when they turned one.
What the researchers found is that the mums of ‘healthy’ one-year-olds drank more cow’s milk during breastfeeding than mums who had allergic one-year-olds.
“Though the association is clear, we do not claim that drinking cow’s milk would be a general cure for food allergies.” said the study’s first author, Mia Stråvik, from the Division of Food Science at Chalmers University of Technology. While there are lots of factors behind a child’s food allergy risk, including genetics, Ms Stråvik says there may be ways that parents are able to have an impact on their children’s food allergies. “Diet is a factor where parents themselves can have direct influence. It is quite common nowadays for young women to avoid drinking milk, due in part to prevailing trends and concerns, some of which are linked to myths about diet.”
She says that milk protein allergies are uncommon in adults, so most mums will be able to have milk and dairy products without any issues. According to Ms Stråvik’s supervisor, one reason for the link between mum’s drinking milk and a reduced allergy risk may be that the milk in the mother’s diet contains substances that stimulate the maturity of the immune system. “In a child’s early development, there is a time window where stimulation of the immune system is necessary for the child to develop tolerance to different foods,” said Professor Ann-Sofie Sandberg.
She says that early contact with microorganisms can kickstart a baby’s immune system. “But, with the lower prevalence of microorganisms nowadays in our more hygienic society, substances taken in through the mother’s diet can be another way to stimulate the maturity of the immune system.”
Eczema link uncovered in study
While previous studies have also found a similar link between mums drinking cow’s milk reducing allergy risks in babies, this study hasn’t relied solely on questionnaire responses.
“In this study, we were able to actually verify the women’s reported intake of milk and milk products through biomarkers in her blood and breastmilk. The biomarkers are two fatty acids formed in the cow’s stomach, which are specific to dairy products,” said Ms Stråvik. “Furthermore, all the cases of allergy in children were diagnosed by a doctor specialising in child allergies.”
Interestingly, the study also uncovered that babies of breastfeeding mums who were eating a lot of fruit and berries at the four-month measurement tended to have eczema to a greater extent. But the researchers say more research is needed before anything can be concluded about this connection.
The researchers are currently doing a follow-up study, looking into the children’s health at the age of four.