Drinking milk while breastfeeding could reduce infants' risk of food allergies

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Experts say milk could have a positive effect on the development of infants’ immune systems

Drinking milk has been linked with health benefits for young kids, and now researchers have found that it could also benefit infants. 

According to findings from a new study conducted by researchers from Chalmers Institute of Technology, mothers who drink cow’s milk while breastfeeding could reduce their infants’ risk of developing food allergies. 

“We have found that mothers of healthy one-year olds consumed more cow’s milk during breastfeeding than mothers of allergic one-year olds,” said researcher Mia Stråvik. “Though the association is clear, we do not claim that drinking cow’s milk would be a general cure for food allergies.” 

The benefits of drinking milk

For the study, the researchers compared mothers’ diets with their children’s allergy outcomes. They had over 500 mothers complete detailed surveys about their food and drink intake at three junctures both during pregnancy and after childbirth, and their children were assessed for food allergies, asthma, or eczema when they turned one year old. 

Ultimately, the researchers found a significant correlation between women who consumed the most milk while breastfeeding and the lowest rates of child food allergies. Conversely, mothers with the lowest rates of milk consumption were more likely to have children with food allergies. 

“No matter how we looked at and interpreted the data, we came to the same conclusion,” said researcher Malin Barman. “The mechanisms behind why milk has this preventative effect against allergies, however, are still unclear.” 

Though the researchers can’t pinpoint exactly why this relationship exists between cow’s milk and reduced likelihood of food allergies, they did explain that it could be linked to how the exposure to dairy affects infants’ immune systems. 

“One hypothesis is that cow’s milk contains something that activates the child’s immune system and it helps it to develop tolerance,” Barman said. “This as-yet unknown cause could be found in the fat of the milk or its protein content. But it could also be the case that the milk itself is neutral in relation to a relatively lower intake of polyunsaturated fats. This would help, because we believe high levels of polyunsaturated fat in a mother’s diet can counteract the maturation of a child’s immune system at an early age.” 

The researchers explained that many food allergies are unavoidable; however, there is a genetic component to many reactions that children develop, and taking steps to reduce the risk of those allergies could greatly benefit kids. 

“Diet is a factor where parents themselves can have direct influence,” said Stråvik. “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 dieting.” 

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