Allergy Prevention Starts Early: Breastfeeding

Allergy Prevention Starts Early: Breastfeeding

Although there are many benefits to breastfeeding, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the breastfeeding’s role in allergy prevention.

At birth, the cells lining the newborn’s small intestines are porous.  This is often referred to as “leaky gut”.  This does not usually pose a problem in the breast feeding infant, however; in infants receiving cow’s milk – based formulas, this can often lead to the development of food allergies. Because the lining of the small intestine is porous, undigested food particles and proteins (which are larger) may pass through this lining into the blood stream.

Photo credit: OhKyleL via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: OhKyleL via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Because of their size, these proteins are easily seen and targeted by the body’s immune system as foreign invaders. A “war” breaks out and antibodies are produced against the food protein to destroy it.  Inflammation results from this confrontation, which can further damage healthy tissue.  Each time the cow’s milk based formula is introduced, the milk proteins have an opportunity to slip through the porous lining and initiate an immune response producing more antibodies and inflammation.  According to La Leche League, there are more than 20 substances in cow’s milk that have been shown to be human allergens. They also state that the following symptoms can alert parents that their baby may be suffering from  milk –based allergies …spitting up, diarrhea, cramping, constipation, gas,  colitis and respiratory problems.. Mom may eventually say, “I think my baby is allergic to this formula”.

Breastmilk has the advantage of containing components that help prevent an allergic response from occurring.  Human milk contains Epidermal Growth Factor which strengthens, protects, and repairs the mucosal lining of the small intestine. There is a lack of EGF in cow’s milk based infant formula.  Human milk also contains secretory IgA.  This is an antibody that “paints” the lining of the porous gastro-intestional tract and prevents proteins (either food based or microbial) from entering the blood stream and stimulating an allergic response from the immune system.  According to Jan Riordan, EdD, RN, IBCLC, FAAN, colostrum, the first milk, is especially rich in antibodies, including sigA. She states, “Because the infants own IgA is deficient and slowly increases during the first several months, sigA in human milk provides important protection to the entire digestive tract of the newborn. Mature milk continues to provide this protection, from the inside, to help the baby remain healthy and allergy –free.”

Babies may exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, and according to Jan Riordan, EdD, RN, IBCLC, FAAN, after 6 months, babies can eat whatever they like and in any order they want.

Rosemarie Anthony RN, IBCLC is passionate about assisting mothers in attaining their goal to breastfeed and empowering families to adopt healthier lifestyle choices that can promote healthy living and aid in the prevention of disease.


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