A new UK study, funded by the FSA (Food Standards Agency), has found that giving babies as young as 3 months peanuts, eggs – and other foods that can cause allergies – may prevent them from developing allergies to those same foods later in life.
But experts say that, although the study findings are important, more research needs to be done, and parents should still stick to Department of Health guidelines, and not offer solid food till a baby is 6 months old.
Which foods did the study look at?
For this EAT (Enquiring About Tolerance) study, the researchers, from King’s College London, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, tracked 1,303 babies over 3 years. They were looking at the following potentially allergenic foods:
- Cooked egg
- Cow’s milk
- White fish
How did the study work?
The recruited babies were split, randomly, into 2 test groups.
The mums of babies in the 1st group were asked to follow the current official guidelines and breastfeed their baby exclusively up to the age of 6 months and then introduce him or her to solid food, including any potentially allergenic foods, if they wished.
The mums of babies in the 2nd group were asked to give their baby, from 3 months, all of the potentially allergenic foods listed above – in specific amounts, and with expert supervision.
Both groups were then tracked for 3 years.
And what exactly were the results?
Overall, children in the group where the allergenic foods were introduced at 3 months were 67% less likely to develop allergies than those who weren’t given solid food till 6 months.
The most significant result was that none of the 310 children who were given peanut substances from 3 months went on to develop a peanut allergy, whereas 13 of the 525 children from the other group did.
In addition, 1.4% of the babies who were given egg from 3 months developed an allergy to eggs, compared to 5.5% in the other test group.
However, the researchers emphasise, the lower risk of developing allergies only held if the mums stuck strictly to the instructions they were given and made sure their baby ate the exact amount of allergenic food allocated.
So, should weaning advice now change?
The short answer to this is no. The Department of Health has not changed its guidelines on weaning – in particular that you shouldn’t start giving your baby solid foods until he or she is 6 months old.
And the FSA, who commissioned this study, is not encouraging parents to do anything differently either. They emphasise, in particular, that this research was carried out under the guidance of expert allergy professionals – not something many of us have access to at home, of course.
“This is an important study,” says Guy Poppy, the FSA’s Chief Scientific Adviser, “but we would advise parents to continue to follow existing government infant-feeding advice.”