NEW YORK – Giving your baby cow's milk, nuts or other solid foods linked to allergies before six months does not appear to cause extra wheezing or eczema later on, according to a Dutch study.
For years, doctors have recommended that parents wait a few years before they give babies such foods, but newer research has failed to find evidence that doing so staves off allergies.
"There does not seem to be a need to avoid solid foods, or allergenic foods, in young children who are otherwise well," said Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, an expert in childhood allergies at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
"This is one of a number of studies that have been pretty much giving us the same message," added Sicherer, who was not involved in the new work.
In 2008, he helped write a report for the American Academy of Pediatrics that backtracked on the group's earlier recommendations to hold back on peanuts and other foods linked to asthma and other allergic diseases.
More than seven percent of adult Americans, and even more kids, have asthma, causing millions of visits to emergency rooms and doctors' offices every year.
The Dutch study, by Ilse Tromp of Erasmus University in Rotterdam and colleagues, tracked eczema and asthma symptoms among nearly 7,000 infants until the children were four years old.
At age two, 31 percent of the toddlers wheezed according to their parents, although this number dropped by half over the next year. Eczema was present in 38 percent of two-year-olds, falling to 18 percent at age four.
Initially, it appeared that kids whose parents had given them nuts before they were six months old had more wheezing. But after considering smoking among the mothers and other risk factors for asthma, there was no longer any sign that nuts were linked to allergic problems, the research team reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"If your child is doing OK, you don't have to worry about giving them milk or eggs or whatever when they are young," said Sicherer.
But if the child shows signs of an allergic reaction—such as breaking out in hives, vomiting, or have trouble breathing—parents should talk to a doctor, he added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies until they are four to six months old.
If for some reason they can't breastfeed and their child is at high risk for developing allergies, the group says using so-called "hypoallergenic" infant formula might be appropriate, although they cost more than the standard product.