More Complicated than Just Milk
Many parents have shared their concerns about feeding their babies with eczema. If you wonder whether or how breastfeeding impacts babies, especially infants with eczema; we are going to share in this article nutrition information about various aspects of baby feeding and address these common concerns about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding: Its Impact on Eczema
What’s in the Breast Milk?
Breast milk is always the best, hands down. We have heard that and it still remains true – because it gives your little one the perfect balance of fats, proteins and other beneficial nutrients. There are also many immune-modulating components in mother’s milk that formula can never be able to emulate. It is even said to outperform vaccinations in protecting the baby as breastfed infant may acquire some of the mum’s immune system.
Exclusive breastfeeding is high recommended for newborns for at least 6 months to get your baby off to a healthy start and to help protect high risk children against developing allergies in their first 2 years of life. It is also said that the milk has the ability to change and adapt to the baby’s changing age, nutritional needs, and health status; giving them exactly what they need at any given time.
Seeding the Baby’s Gut Microbiome
New study suggested that breastfeeding helps babies develop gut-friendly bacteria. Before birth, your baby has a nearly sterile gut and an immature immune system. The delivery through the birth canal and skin-to-skin contact will be her first important inoculations of important microbes. The babies get 10% of their gut bacteria from skin on mother’s breasts and another 30% of their gut bacteria are seeded from breastfeeding.
The more babies nurse, the more their gut flora change to resemble what is found in the mother’s milk. Longer breastfeeding can also encourage lactic acid bacteria to flourish in the gut for longer. It also appears that these gut bacteria change significantly between 9 months and 18 months when breastfeeding stops, and infants begin to take in solid food. It explains why nursing is encouraged to continue until 2 years since baby’s immune system does a lot of maturing over the first couple of years of her life.
Gut bacteria have so much to do with how we feel. Our gut health is so important because 80% of our immune system lies in the gut; affecting us from birth and throughout the life.
Breastfeeding Not ‘All’ Protective
What ‘Else’ are in the Milk?
Whilst there is no doubt that breast milk is the best, recent studies also showed that they may not protect your child from developing allergies or eczema during the first year of life.
Contrary to earlier studies, more recent literature reviews found no evidence for a protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding for 3 months or longer and the risks of developing eczema. Children who were exclusively breastfed for 4 months or longer were just as likely to develop eczema as children who were weaned earlier. For infants who were fed with cow’s milk before 9 months, they had a small increased risk of developing eczema. In fact, newer study in 2016 cohort study now suggests that breastfeeding itself may be a risk factor.
Nursing Mother’s Diet – Can Breast Milk Causes Eczema?
Consider Yourself Warned
We have always been told that breast milk is the best; but no one ever told us that a baby can be allergic to the breast milk! Now, you can say you have been officially warned.
You may hear it here first but true enough, what you put into your body while breastfeeding does go right to the baby. In a paper published in 1921, proteins in a mother’s diet were found to pass unchanged into the breast milk.
Do you know that breast milk also tends to attract heavy metals and other contaminants due to its high fats and protein content? An article by Florence Williams in the Times Magazine mentioned:
“When we nurse our babies, we feed them not only the fats, sugars and proteins that fire their immune systems, metabolisms and cerebral synapses. We also feed them, albeit in minuscule amounts, paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline byproducts, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungicides and flame retardants.”
We are carrying around quite a heavy load of toxins because of our constant exposure to various chemicals in the environment and these chemicals can end up in breast milk and in turn, get passed on to our newborns. Researchers believe that mothers siphon off to their babies a significant amount of their chemicals store through breastfeeding. Anything that dissolves well in fat can move well through the blood through the breast cells and concentrate them in milk.
The infant organs and systems have not fully formed or immature. They are therefore more delicate in the first months or years in their lives; hence, prone to express the toxicity of these chemicals more quickly in the form of eczema through the skin. If you think about it, the baby receives nutrients from the mother’s breast milk!
Of course, breast milk and baby eczema correlation may also be associated with other factors including hereditary predisposition, health of the mother as affected by her diet, lifestyle or emotional stress and the environment.
Notwithstanding the mixed results of medical studies about breastfeeding and development of eczema or allergies in a child later in life; it is crucial for parents to recognize that breast milk has to be agreeable for the baby to be able to absorb the nutrients for optimal growth and development. In other word, the baby shouldn’t be allergic or intolerant to the mother’s breast milk, or rather, proteins contained therein.
New Mum’s Guilt: ‘I Can’t Believe My Baby Got My Skin’
Many mothers with eczema baby share the same stress and anxiety about their diets, worrying if the foods they eat end up triggering the eczema rashes via their breast milk.
We do not exactly know how dietary proteins are processed in breast milk but if the mother has a ‘leaky gut’ in the first place, it may allow food proteins to pass through her blood and get picked up by the breast cells. Furthermore, baby’s gut is immature and may be ‘leaky’ because the mucosa that lines the baby’s gut is less developed and is more permeable than older kid’s or adult’s. Other factors that affect your baby’s gut function and permeability include the use of antibiotics, exposure to certain toxins or chemicals and vaccinations. Increasingly, infants now are getting more of these sorts of exposure than ever.
In essence, the quality of a mother’s milk depends on a number of factors including her diet, gut flora and digestion (gut health), toxins exposure, stress or fatigue and many others.
Forget about the Guilt: Pay More Attention to your Health as a Nursing Mother
Benefits of breastfeeding still far outweigh its risks, considering its partial protective effects against toxins along with its antibodies, enzymes and general goodness.
Instead of not breastfeeding your baby, keeping a healthy gut and keeping a conscious avoidance of exposure to toxins and harmful chemicals will be your best prevention!
Some suggest embarking on a detox before conception and be mindful of eating healthily and avoid pollution, pesticides and other unlikely exposure to toxins especially skincare or personal care products that are laden with synthetics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests nursing mothers with babies prone to developing eczema to avoid peanuts and tree nuts, and consider avoiding cow’s milk, eggs, and fish as well. A slight change in diet is beneficial or may lower risk of eczema in children if the mother’s diet is rich in vegetables, fish, fruits and Vitamin D. Other combined review of studies did not show much impacts or protective effects. More details on supplementation for nursing or pregnant mothers are covered in this article – Pregnancy Diet: Can it Prevent Eczema in Baby?
Unfortunately, not all babies are agreeable to the mothers’ milk or mothers may face circumstances that make breastfeeding difficult or not possible. We are also going to address the concerns of mothers with many questions about milk alternatives and bottle feeding for babies with eczema in the article – Milk Alternatives for Babies with Eczema.