Breastfeeding and food allergies: Moms who eat the most common allergy-causing foods and breastfeed provide their babies with protection

“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” This line may have been said over a millennium ago, but it still holds true today as another study once again proves the benefits of breastfeeding. Researchers have determined that breastfeeding mothers who ate the most common allergy-causing foods, such as eggs, peanuts, and shellfish, during pregnancy protect their children against allergy, according to a new study.

In the study, a team of researchers from the Boston Children’s Hospital carried out an experiment on pregnant mice. Michiko Oyoshi, lead researcher of the study, said that the question on whether mothers should eat foods that cause allergies during pregnancy or not has been controversial as various studies have concluded differently. This is because of the difficulty in determining when mothers and babies first eat a certain food. On the other hand, the exposure to food can be controlled in mouse studies, she explained.

The researchers found that pregnant mice that ate allergy-causing foods gave their offspring protective antibodies through breast milk. These antibodies caused the baby mice to produce allergen-specific regulatory T immune cells, allowing them to tolerate the allergenic foods.

In addition, they found that breast milk prevented anaphylactic shock, which is a serious and life-threatening reaction, as well as the production of immunoglobulin E and mast cells, which are telltale signs of an allergic response. Moreover, breast milk gave more protection when fed to unrelated offspring that were not exposed to allergy-causing foods in the womb.

Meanwhile, in other experiments, mothers who had never consumed any food that causes allergy were given the specific antibodies from other mothers, which also protected their breastfed babies. Furthermore, human breast milk given to mice with human antibodies made to respond to human antibodies also gave protection, which suggests that the study’s findings can be applicable to humans.

The researchers also administered the breast milk of mothers unexposed to allergenic foods to the mice born to the mothers who consumed allergenic foods. The results revealed that there was still protection from the womb exposure but not as much as compared to when the mice were also exposed through breastfeeding. Additionally, they found that offspring remained food-tolerant even after the absence of the mother’s antibody, indicating a long-lasting effect.

“If you combine both womb and breastfeeding exposure, you have optimal induction of food tolerance,” Oyoshi said.

The process of food tolerance

The researchers also observed a step-by-step process of food tolerance. First, the antibodies in breast milk are passed on to the offspring through the help of a receptor called FcRn on intestinal cells. Then, these dendritic cells process a complex made up of antibody and allergen known as IgC-IC and present it on their surface through FcRn. In turn, this stimulates the production of allergen-specific T regulatory (Treg) cells, which then interact with other immune cells to prevent food allergy.

Other benefits of breastfeeding

According to the latest data of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding rates continue to increase in the United States, as 79 percent of newborn babies started breastfeed in 2011. However, only 49 percent of them only breastfed for six months and 27 percent for one year. (Related: Let’s breastfeed! Or not?)

To encourage you to breastfeed, here are some benefits of breastfeeding:

  • Breast milk gives perfectly balanced meals.

  • It provides a natural protection against diseases.

  • Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  • Breastfeeding can lower the risk of asthma.

  • Nursing is also environment-friendly because it does not need any packaging or bottles.

  • Producing breast milk can help mothers lose weight.

  • Breastfeeding will save you money.

Find out more health benefits of breast milk at

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