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Nov 05

What are the benefits of breast milk?
Breast milk is unique and is the ideal food for the baby. It fosters proper growth to the newborn. The composition of human breast milk among others includes nutrition, growth factors, hormones, enzymes, blood cells that fight infections and immune-protective factors. The lactation is robust and mother’s breast milk is adequate in essential nutrients, even when her own nutrition is inadequate. Mature breast milk usually has constant levels of about 7g/dL carbohydrate and about 0.9g/dL proteins. But the composition of fats essential for neonatal growth, brain development, and retinal function varies according to a woman’s intake, the length of gestation, and the period of lactation. Vitamins and minerals also vary according to maternal intake.

However, even when these nutrients are lower in breast milk than in formulas, their higher bioactivity and bioavailability nearly meet the complete needs of neonates than provided by even the best infant formulas. Also, in many instances human milk components compensate for immature function, such as a neonate’s inability to produce certain digestive enzymes, immunoglobulin A (IgA), taurine, nucleotides, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition, the breast milk contains various cells (such as macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes) that play a critical role in the immune protection of the baby.

Babies on breast milk have lower risk for the development of allergy. Human milk lacks inflammatory mediators, and contains anti-inflammatory agents such as antiproteases, antioxidants, and enzymes that degrade inflammatory mediators and modulators of leukocyte activation. Furthermore, IgE (the principal immunoglobulin responsible for immediate hypersensitivity reactions), basophils, mast cells, eosinophils (the principal effector cells in these reactions) are absent in breast milk. The mediators from these cells are also absent in human milk. Immune and nonimmune protecting agents are present in milk throughout lactation and some, such as lysozyme, are present at higher concentrations during prolonged lactation than during the early stages. Therefore, although it is advocated that breast-fed infants receive food supplements after 4 to 6 months of exclusive breast-feeding, it is advisable to breast-feed for longer periods.

Moreover, the breast milk promotes the development of healthy gut flora that acts to suppress the development of the allergic reaction.

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Nov 03

The Allergy March
Young babies who develop food-induced eczema before one year have almost 50 percent risk of developing asthma by age 5 years. This is specifically true of babies who have been exposed to high levels of house dust mite allergens. Another study revealed that children who wheeze before age 3 years and continue to wheeze at age 6 years have diminished lung function and a 2- to 3-fold increased risk of having asthma at age 11 years. These studies indicate that intervention for asthma must be initiated very early in childhood to change the course of history of the disease.

In predisposed infants in the first few months the initial symptom of allergy manifest in the skin as eczema and the severity of the symptoms slowly decrease with age giving the impression that the allergy is getting cured. Often the eczema is followed by allergic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract and when it appears that the symptoms are disappearing respiratory allergic disorder begins. The respiratory allergy initially manifest as rhinitis but soon followed by wheezing often ending up as asthma. This is called the Allergy March. Do not ever be complacent when the child develops an allergic symptom in early life. Immediately find the cause and manage it through avoidance. Early in life management of the allergy will prevent the child developing asthma later in childhood.

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Nov 01

Can the risk for allergy be determined at birth?
It is now possible to identify babies at risk for allergy at birth. Two factors are usually considered, namely (1) Family history, and (2) Cord blood total serum IgE level. Epidemiological studies have shown that when one parent has allergy the risk for the baby is 20 percent but if both parents have allergy the risk for the baby developing an allergic disorder increase to 70%. The risk of allergy is four times higher if the mother has allergy compared if the father has allergy. If there is a family history, even when grandparents have allergic symptoms, it is advisable to plan to reduce exposure to allergens for the baby even during the pregnancy.

In recent years research studies have revealed that the foetus develops in an immunological environment biased for the humoral response during pregnancy. This means that genetically predisposed foetus has a very high risk for being sensitized to allergens during pregnancy. This means that the serum IgE levels will be elevated in the baby’s blood. Thus, the risk for allergy can be easily determined by estimating the total serum IgE level in the cord blood at birth. A high IgE concentration in the cord blood suggests that the baby has a high risk for the development of allergy. This information pre-warns the paediatrician of the possibility of allergy symptoms in the baby appearing anytime after birth depending on the exposure to allergens. Therefore, avoidance measures can be taken early even before the symptoms appear and reduce the chances for allergy symptoms in the predisposed baby.

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At birth an infant’s immune system is immature and the neonate is dependent on many factors present in breast milk for immune protection. Depriving the baby of breast milk may speed up the development of allergy in pre-disposed infants.

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