According to the medical parlance it has become mandatory for the doctors to recommend the mothers of newborns to feed them exclusively on breast milk alone for the first six months, excluding any solid foods. But that notion has now been strongly challenged by a new study, saying that feeding the babies on cereals in the earlier part may be helpful to overcome the food allergies.
Jill Poole, M.D., assistant professor in the pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy section of the department of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is lead author of the Pediatrics study, 'Timing of Initial Exposure to Cereal Grains and the Risk of Wheat Allergy.'
The issue of when to introduce solid foods to infants is controversial, partly because the American Academy of Pediatrics currently has not just one, but two recommendations. The academy's Committee on Nutrition suggests giving infants cereal some time between 4 and 6 months of age. But the AAP Committee on Breastfeeding advises parents not to give babies solid food until after they're 6 months old. This advice is partly based on earlier studies that concluded infants who were given solid food in the first few months of life had a higher incidence of developing allergies.
But that may not be true, said Dr. Poole, who analyzed allergy outcomes in 1,612 Colorado children when she was at the University of Colorado. Sixteen of the children developed allergies to wheat. Four of the children were introduced to cereal before they were 6 months old, and 12 of the babies ate their first solid food after they were 6 months old.
The University of Colorado's Jill Norris, Ph.D., who organized the group of children studied, is senior author of the study.
After Dr. Poole and colleagues factored in family history of allergies and other possible influences, she said: "We found the odds striking - almost four times as many babies in the group, which delayed introduction of solid food until after they were 6 months old, got wheat allergies."
Dr. Poole said a growing number of parents are waiting even beyond 6 months to give their babies cereal, in an effort to prevent food allergies. While further studies are needed to prove a connection between higher incidence of wheat allergy and delaying solid food introduction, Dr. Poole said that waiting may not be beneficial, and may, in fact, be harmful.
'In addition to our study, other retrospective studies in Europe also suggest that delaying solid food introduction in an infant's diet may not be beneficial,' she said.