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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2000;478:121-30.

Breast-feeding and the development of cows' milk protein allergy.

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Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Helsinki, Finland.


Early feeding with cows' milk (CM) may cause cows' milk allergy (CMA). Breast milk contains many immune factors which compensate for the undeveloped defence mechanisms of the gut of the newborn infant. We studied the effect of supplementary CM feeding at the maternity hospital on the subsequent incidence of CMA, the effects of formula and breast feeding on the subsequent immunologic types of CMA, and the importance of immune factors present in colostrum in the immune responses of infants with CMA. In a cohort of 6209 infants, 824 were exclusively breast-fed and 87% required supplementary milk while in the maternity hospital: 1789 received CM formula, 1859 pasteurized human milk, and 1737 whey hydrolysate formula. The cumulative incidence of CMA, verified by a CM elimination-challenge test, was 2.4% in the CM, 1.7% in the pasteurized human milk and 1.5% in the whey hydrolysate group. Among these infants, exposure to CM at hospital and a positive atopic heredity increased the risk of CMA. Of the exclusively breast-fed infants, 2.1% had CMA. Risk factors for the development of IgE-mediated CMA were: exposure to CM at hospital, breast-feeding during the first 8 weeks at home either exclusively or combined with infrequent exposure to small amounts of CM and long breast-feeding. The content of transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) in colostrum from mothers of infants with IgE-mediated CMA was lower than from mothers of infants with non-IgE-mediated CMA. In infants with CMA, TGF-beta1 in colostrum negatively correlated with the result of skin prick test and the stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to CM, but positively with infants' IgA and IgG antibodies to CM proteins. Feeding of CM formula at maternity hospital increases the risk of CMA, but exclusive breast-feeding does not eliminate the risk. Prolonged breast-feeding exclusively or combined with infrequent exposure to small amounts of CM during the first 8 weeks induces the development of IgE-mediated CMA. Colostral TGF-beta1 may inhibit IgE- and cell mediated reactions and promote IgG-IgA antibody production to CM in infants prone to developing CMA.

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