British researchers say that introducing solid food with breast milk after the 17th week of birth could reduce food allergies in babies.
The researchers, led by Dr Kate Grimshaw, dietitian and senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, say that giving the baby solid food beside breast feeding helps it develop a better, stronger immune system to fight food allergies.
"Introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding can benefit the immune system," Dr Grimshaw explains. "It appears the immune system becomes educated when there is an overlap of solids and breast milk because the milk promotes tolerogenic mechanisms against the solids.
"Additionally, our findings suggest 17 weeks is a crucial time point, with solid food introduction before this time appearing to promote allergic disease whereas solid food introduction after that time point seems to promote tolerance."
Infants are largely intolerant of solid food before four to six months of age. This is thought to be due to the infant gut being relatively immature, which may cause symptoms of food allergy.
The research supports the recommendations of the American Academy of Paediatrics and other health organizations who who urge mothers not to introduce solid foods before four to six months of age. Furthermore the findings also support the American Academy of Paediatrics' breastfeeding recommendations that breastfeeding should continue while solid foods are introduced into the diet.
The study was funded by the UK Food Standards Agency and published in Pediatrics.