New research has now found that the milk of mothers who eat known allergy foods (nuts, eggs, wheat, shellfish) in pregnancy and while breastfeeding protect their babies from those very allergies. This is of course as long as the mother does not already have an allergy to these foods herself!
Not so long ago women were advised not to eat peanuts in pregnancy in case this is what was causing the rise in children with dangerous nut allergies. This turns out to be the wrong advice and children could have been protected if mothers had eaten nuts in the pregnancy and then continued whilst breastfeeding.
It was found that the immunity from allergies was not fully passed on if the mother did not breastfeed. But when a baby is breastfed, immunity is given. When a nursing mother is exposed to a food protein, her milk contains complexes of the food protein combined with her antibodies, which are transferred to the baby through breastfeeding. Aided by a protein in the baby's gut lining and some immune cells, the food protein-antibody complexes are taken up and introduced to the baby's developing immune system triggering the production of protective cells that suppress allergic reactions to the food. This protection persists after the baby is weaned from breast milk on to a more varied diet at six months.
Now that we understand a little better just how good human milk is for our babies we should be shouting it from the rooftops. Imagine if you, and only you, could not only make your baby's brain develop so that they have a higher IQ, protect them from stomach bugs in their vulnerable early months, but also ensure that they do not develop allergies that could endanger their very lives. WOW. Such power.
And yet UK breastfeeding rates are the lowest in Europe. I often wonder why.