New research suggests that breast is not always best and may increase a child's risk of developing allergies - if mother has family history of allergic conditions.
In many countries it is currently recommended that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. This is thought to have many health benefits but probably the most touted of these is a reduced risk of allergies later in life. Recent Australian research now seems to complicate the issue.
A research team from the University of Melbourne carried out a longitudinal study on 8,500 people. A longitudinal study is one in which the participants are followed over a period of time to determine for instance if a disease develops, in this case allergies.
What the team found was that although the current thinking is correct up to a point, it is not necessarily true when a mother has allergies herself, or a family history of allergies. In this case breastfeeding may not help protect against allergies later in life and may even increase the risk of their development slightly.
On the AM show which is broadcast around Australia on ABC local radio, Dr Melanie Matheson from the University's School of Population Health, and lead researcher on the study, explained the details of what had been found.
"We found that breastfeeding in the first three months of life protected against asthma and allergic disease before the age of seven but it no longer protected against those conditions after the age of seven. Our study followed our cohort up until the age of 44 and we found that the risk of asthma and allergic disease continued to increase right up into middle age."
Dr. Matheson and her colleagues said the increased risk is small, but add that their work does call into question the current guidelines on breastfeeding in relation to allergies.
Other guests on the show, while agreeing that the findings of the study certainly add to current knowledge, don't think women should change their behaviour and ignore recommendations to breastfeed. They also said that the findings were certainly not conclusive.
David Thomas, Chair of the Child Youth Health Committee at the Australian Medical Association said, "Their study really needs to examine whether they've looked at all other external variables. Allergies later in life can be predisposed to by a number of other environmental impacts which are quite independent of breastfeeding. So, if they've found an association, they really need to look at all the other factors 'cause it may or may not be related to breastfeeding."