Delaying Solid Foods Protects Premature Babies from Eczema
Giving solid foods to prematurely born infants during their first 17 weeks increases the likelihood that they will develop eczema within the first year, according to the Archives of Diseases of Childhood (2004;89:309–14).
Eczema, a skin disorder characterized by itchy, red patches that may blister, peel, crust, or scab, is caused by inflammation in the skin that can be triggered by allergies and emotional stress. Children whose parents have allergies are more likely to develop eczema and other allergic conditions than children whose parents have no allergies.
Many people with eczema have food sensitivities (sometimes called food allergies). These people can often manage their symptoms by avoiding the foods to which they are sensitive. Several studies have found that feeding solid foods to babies during their first four months increases the likelihood that they will develop eczema by the time they are six months old and asthma by the time they are 10 years old. Babies born prematurely (more than three weeks early) might be at higher risk of developing allergies; however, it is not known whether introducing solid food to prematurely born babies may affect their allergic conditions.
In the current study, 257 infants born prematurely were observed for 12 months after delivery. Mothers answered questionnaires about many aspects of their babies’ lives (including detailed questions about diet) when they entered the study, and after 4, 8, and 12 months. After 12 months, researchers looked for signs of eczema in each infant.
Introducing specific foods at any point in the 12 months was not linked to eczema risk; however, the likelihood of developing eczema by the age of 12 months was more than three times higher in infants who were fed any four or more types of solid foods before they were 17 weeks old than in infants who were fed just breast milk or infant formula, alone or in combination. Furthermore, delaying the introduction of solid foods for at least ten weeks was found to protect against developing eczema by the age of 12 months in infants whose parents did not have allergies.
This study suggests that delaying introduction of solid foods to prematurely born infants until after 17 weeks can protect against eczema development. These findings are similar to those found in infants born on time; therefore, feeding recommendations for allergy prevention in all infants should be consistent. Future research might tell us whether introducing low-allergen infant foods, such as rice, fruits, and vegetables, individually and after four months, is safer than introducing high-allergen foods on a similar schedule.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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