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Allergies Health Center

Peanut Allergy May Be Triggered by Breastfeeding

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"It's been known for some time that at least some of the foods that mothers eat are passed in the breast milk," says Scott H. Sicherer, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

He says the study adds another piece to the puzzle by showing that peanuts eaten by the mother can get into breast milk "in a form and a quantity that could potentially sensitize or cause reactions in nursing babies."

The new study is in agreement with the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently began recommending that mothers whose babies are at high risk for food allergies or other types of allergies consider not eating foods containing peanuts while breastfeeding, according to Sicherer, who provided WebMD with an objective analysis of the study.

Another expert, Marc E. Rothenberg, MD, says it still remains to be proven if the amount of peanut protein found in breast milk is sufficient to sensitize infants to developing a peanut allergy.

"The levels, in an of themselves, are pretty high, and this could explain why people have peanut allergy. ... Peanut allergy often presents in the first year of life, and we often wonder why that is if they haven't had any exposure and have only been consuming breast milk or formula," says Rothenberg, who is section chief of allergy and immunology and an associate professor at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "This shows that exposure could have been through the breast milk, and that is significant. It means mothers who are breastfeeding and who are concerned about allergies should watch their diet."

Rothenberg says one interpretation of the study is that it may be possible -- by completely avoiding peanuts in infancy and early childhood -- to avoid ever developing a peanut allergy, since it usually develops early, if at all. On the other hand, he says it's also possible that some slight exposure may be necessary to strengthen the immune system to fight off or lessen the effects of a peanut allergy attack.

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