For the new study, French researchers exposed lactating mice to an airborne allergen, ovalbumin, which is the main protein found in egg whites. Ovalbumin was transferred from the mother to the baby via breast milk and conferred immunological tolerance to the allergen.
The baby mice exposed to ovalbumin showed decreased airway "hyper-reactivity" and decreased mucus in the airways, among other benefits.
"No other experimental study has investigated whether exposure of lactating mice to an airborne allergen would impact asthma development in progeny. The allergen exposure was only restricted to the lactation phase starting one day after delivery to three weeks (weaning time)," said study senior author Valerie Julia, a permanent researcher with the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, University of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis in Valbonne.
"We found that airborne antigens are efficiently transferred from the mother to the neonate through milk. We believe that the presence of the allergen in milk together with the immunosuppressive molecule called TGF-beta "instructs" the immune system of the neonate not to over-react against the allergen," Julia added.
Although more studies need to be done to confirm the potential effect in humans, as Wu pointed out, "there are other huge benefits of breast-feeding in terms of nutrition and emotional bonding."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on breast-feeding your infant.
SOURCES: Jennifer Wu, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Valerie Julia, Ph.D., permanent researcher, National Institute of Health and Medical Research, University of N
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