Allergic disorders are common in up to 40% of children in Australia.
Allergies are often lifelong and have treatments but no cures. So it makes sense to try to prevent them before they appear. Allergic diseases have approximately doubled in western counties over the last 25 years and the most common allergies are eczema, asthma and hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
A number of factors increase the risk of infants, toddlers and children developing allergies. These include; family history eg. parents or sibling with an allergy related illness, the introduction of both cow’s milk or soy milk formula before three to four months for eczema and food allergy. Being born in the spring may increase an infant’s risk of hayfever or seasonal rhinitis and passive exposure to cigarette smoking may increase asthma and respiratory disorders.
Reducing the risk of allergies in your children can be accomplished by not smoking in pregnancy or exposing the infant to cigarette smoke or exposure to unflued indoor gas heaters. Risks may also be reduced by removing sources of mould and dampness where possible. Breastfeeding where possible to at least six months and delaying the introduction of formula if it must be used at all until the child is four to six months of age also helps reduce the risk of allergies. If it is not possible to breastfeed use a partially hydrolysed (hypo-allergenic) cow’s milk formula in the first 4-6 months, commonly referred to as a HA formula unless your infant is diagnosed by a doctor as allergic to cow’s milk. If hydrolysed formulas are not tolerated then amino acid based formula like (Neocate, Elecare) are the best options, available with prescription. It has not been shown that soy milk or goats milk fed babies have prevented the development of allergies.
Parents should not introduce solids until four to six months of age. There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of foods like eggs, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts or seafood beyond the first 4-6 months of life reduces the risk of food allergy or eczema. Some research suggests that the delayed introduction of foods beyond six months may even lead to an increased risk of food allergy but further research is needed to confirm this. Excluding these more allergenic foods from the pregnant mothers diet, or while breastfeeding have also not been shown to reduce the risk of developing allergic diseases but has been shown to impair weight gain in babies. Taking fish oil while pregnant has not been shown to reduce allergies in babies. There are conflicting studies on giving probiotics to a pregnant mother in late pregnancy and also a baby in the first six months of life for the prevention of allergic disease and further studies are needed to clarify their role in prevention.
This information is mainly derived from A.S.C.I.A The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergies which is the peak body in Australia and New Zealand of immunologists and allergists and whose role it is to conduct, review and evaluate all current research in this field. Further advice can be found on their website