Flaws in Study of Breastfeeding and Dairy Allergy

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cow-calf-milk A new Israeli study making the rounds of the internet is claiming that exclusive breastfeeding, instead of preventing allergies as has been shown by countless earlier studies, actually increases the risk for dairy allergy. At the end of the article, the researchers ignore recommendations by the World Health Organization and other medical bodies in place for decades,  advising parents to give their babies cow’s milk in the early days and weeks of life.

Dr. Yitzhak Katz, lead researcher of the study, was interviewed by the press:

Katz added that the findings should not be interpreted as discouraging breastfeeding. Rather, he recommends simply complementing it with cow’s milk early on.

“Let Dad enjoy some midnight infant bonding,” he said, “while he delivers a dose or two of cow’s milk protein.”

Dr.Sharron Bransburg Zabary, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and researcher in the field of the immune system at Tel Aviv University, read and responded to the study. In an article on the Israeli site Walla, she points out flaws in the study’s data and methodology, and explains why its conclusions were so irresponsible.

The article looked at 13,000 births and analyzed data regarding the introduction of cow’s milk formula and subsequent dairy allergy.  The data showed that only 0.5% of babies are allergic to cow’s milk, a much lower number than the one to three percent allergy rate reported in medical literature.

Below is my summary of Zabary’s main points:

  1. The study is retrospective, based on self-reporting by the mothers weeks and months after the fact. Mothers needed to tell the researchers the date when the baby was first exposed to cow’s milk, and report on any allergic symptoms that occurred within a few days of the exposure. Data gathered from this type of study is always suspect, even more so here because the period after birth is so intense. Relying on post-partum mothers to report on allergy symptoms means that many milk allergies were likely missed, explaining the relatively low incidence of dairy allergy among the infants studied.
  2. The study discarded data about exposure to cow’s milk formula in the hospital after birth. [MiI: The most recent data showed that 70% of Israeli babies receive formula in the hospital.] Babies who have received formula are no longer exclusively breastfeeding.
  3. No correlation was found with known factors in the literature that increase the rate of dairy allergy. Factors include gender, birth by cesarean section, and genetics.
  4. The study focused only on milk allergies, which are not generally life-threatening and usually pass by one year of age. Early exposure to cow’s milk and early weaning is also associated with many other health issues, including juvenile diabetes, chronic gastrointestinal illnesses, obesity, metabolic conditions, SIDS and even some types of cancers,. The effects of not breastfeeding continue long after infancy. The researchers did not address these concerns when giving a blanket recommendation to give all babies cow’s milk at a few days or weeks of age.
  5. The study was funded, in part, by the Israel Milk Council. Anyone who markets cow’s milk has an interest in discouraging breastfeeding.

Zabary concludes:

The researchers chose to ignore these dangers and  recommend, in an irresponsible way, early exposure to cow’s milk that can damage babies’ health of babies. They chose to directly influence the public, in an indefensible way, by bypassing instructions of the health ministry entrusted with public health (perhaps knowing that the study would not pass this test) and whose dietary recommendations for infants contradict the study’s conclusions.

The cynical use researchers made of children’s health should concern health authorities in Israel. The study was funded by the “milk council” and one can only ask  whether this study was motivated by financial interests. Is the health of our children up for grabs? Because it can’t be that a lone study concerned with only one risk with a very low incidence will lead to a harmful change in the way babies are fed.

Zabary mentioned that she reads dozens of articles about breastfeeding and the immune system each month, yet only negative studies about breastfeeding get so much press.

You may also enjoy:

Breast Cancer and Breastfeeding: What if Women Didn’t Have Breasts?

Breastfeeding and Hormonal Birth Control

More Breastfeeding Posts at A Mother in Israel

Photo credit: Ellenm1

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Comments

  1. there’s something else missing here.
    children who are really allergic to the proteins in milk are exposed to it when nursing too.
    Nursing doesn’t prevent the exposure to allergens.
    When my sister was nursing an allergic baby, her daughter would have a reaction if she (my sister) ate any of the foods she (the baby) was allergic to.

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  2. My son is 10 and is still very allergic to milk. Coincidentally, he was the first of my kids to be exclusively breastfed (my oldest three kids each had at least a few bottles of formula). I viewed it as a good thing that I was available to breastfeed him exclusively. I did not abstain from milk products myself at all (LeahGG – at least with some foods, the proteins are broken down before they can get into the breast milk). He’s not allergic to soy, though, and when I discovered he was allergic to milk at age 6 months when I mixed a small amount of formula into his cereal, I simply switched to soy formula for that purpose.

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  3. BookishIma says:

    I don’t understand why there is such a focus on preventing allergies by introducing or not introducing food during a baby’s first year, when there is a lot of evidence that exposure has little to do with it. I hope there won’t be an official recommendation to give all infants cow’s milk in order to possibly prevent a rare and non-life-threatening allergy. Also, it doesn’t seem like the study addressed the fact that today’s supermarket milk is really a different product than cow’s milk of only a few generations ago. I just checked the LLL Israel site but no response there.

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  4. Penina Taylor says:

    I have four children. The first child nursed for 6 weeks, with some supplemental formula. My second child only nursed for a few days b/c doctor took her off breastfeeding due to jaundice, my other two kids were nursed for more than 6 months. The only child to have a milk allergy? The second one who did not nurse more than a couple of days. The other three are healthy and never had a problem. Thank G-d, my daughter outgrew her allergy, but she still has eczema and all kinds of other allergies.

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  5. Let me clarify that I am NOT saying my son’s allergy to milk was caused by exclusive breastfeeding. The allergists I have used all say that delaying exposure to problematic foods makes the chance of allergies less, not more.

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  6. Many allergens definitely pass through breast milk (we learned this the hard way with our youngest baby who is allergic to just about everything, eggs, milk, sesame, you name it).

    Soy is not a wonderfood either. There are animal studies at UofC that suggest soy correlates with behavioral problems.

    Our dietitian recommended Nutramigan (broken down milk proteins), which my daughter has been getting for the past 6 months since weaning. Last week I took a look at the ingredients and nearly had a fit. The VERY first ingredient – corn syrup solids!!! Followed by casien, corn starch, fructose, and coconut oil. For this we pay $15 a pack after the HMO subsidy.

    Absolutely outrageous!

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  7. Leah: unfortunately, they kind of have you by the throat if your child isn’t eating a good amount of other foods and isn’t nursing. Cow or goat’s milk _might_ be adequate past 6 months (certainly is past a year), but if your child is allergic, you don’t have that option either.

    Once they are getting some protein from their food (e.g. eating meat/eggs/fish – even a couple of teaspoons full a day), then you can use almond or rice milk or even fruit juice to give them some extra calories and nutrients and fill out their menu, because they don’t need the proteins and nutrients that are packed into a formula.

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  8. As for studies about soy, just remember that studies can be made to say absolutely ANYTHING

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  9. Leah,

    Good point about studies. Still with all this raging debate about soy, I didn’t feel comfortable making it a staple of my baby’s diet.

    My concern was with getting her adequate calcium, not protein. How do you get calcium into a milk/sesame allergic girl?

    Regarding fruit juice, it is a really bad option for everyone especially for kids. You get all the fructose with no fiber. Check it out here: http://ingathered.com/2010/06/21/fructose_in_nutrition

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  10. Your point number five: The study was funded, in part, by the Israel Milk Council —
    well, that kind of explains it all, no?

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  11. “The study was funded, in part, by the Israel Milk Council. ” – sheesh

    Regarding soy, I’ve been told by a health professional I respect it is especially dangerous because of the hormones for little girls.

    Regarding allergies, I recommend following a woman called Heather Fraser.
    See http://www.peanutallergyepidemic.com/allergy_podcast_episode1.html

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  12. I think real milk is less allergy producing than dairy formulas, which have industrial powdered milk. Now, in my early 60’s I’ve found myself able to drink milk in my coffee but no dairy products, because they aren’t natural. Years ago babies were given ordinary milk with sugar boiled up if the mother didn’t nurse.

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  13. LeahGG, Zabary does mention exposure to milk protein allergens via breastmilk. But earlier studies have shown that early introduction of formula increases the risk even among mothers who eat dairy. I heard an allergist say that women with allergies or asthma in the family should avoid major allergens, including dairy, starting in the last weeks of pregnancy. That was many years ago.
    Thanks Tesyaa and Penina for sharing your experience.
    Leora, there are claims that early puberty in girls is associated with soy formula.
    Batya, the formula is supposed to remove the parts of the milk that are harder to digest, but I once read that no one has actually compared the two. So you may have a point.

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  14. Melodie says:

    They make it sounds like humans need cow milk to survive and that we’re doing a disservice to our children by possibly increasing their chance of an allergy. Oh no, they won’t be able to have dairy! How will they ever survive? Funded by the Milk Industry? Of course!

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  15. Melodie, good point.

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  16. I think allergies are genetic, and mothers who suffer from allergies themselves are much more likely to choose breastfeeding for their babies, so more breastfed babies have allergies.

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  17. I do not consume dairy because it wrecks my guts and I think it’s unnatural for an adult human to nurse off of another species. I have never had issue with calcium problems whatsoever. But if you’re really worried, try out almond milk. It should also be noted that the proteins found in milk can actually flush calcium out of one’s system. Other dandy foods loaded with the good stuff are cabbage, bok choy, tofu, oranges, white beans, and oatmeal. Also, think green- Spinach, broccoli,collard greens, chard, kale, and celery are all calcium superstars.

    Hope this helps.

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  18. The lead researcher’s name is Dr. Yitzchak Katz

    http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(10)00688-3/abstract#cor1

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  19. Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

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