Israeli researches are coming out against the claim that cow milk is not healthful for infants: a survey of close to 13,000 babies shows that giving cow milk along with breastfeeding can prevent the development of allergies to cow milk. Researcher tells Yediot Acharonot News: “There is no need for lactose-free milk substitutes.”

Many parents fear giving their babies cow milk out of concern that it may cause an allergic reaction. But Israeli researches are now saying that giving specifically cow milk in the first days of life may reduce the incidence of the allergy to the milk for life.

Cow milk is considered one of the most allergenic foods. In medical literature it is reported that between 2-5% of children are allergic to cow milk. Though there are reports of spontaneous recovery from the allergy, on the other hand, there are also reports of children suffering not only from milk allergies, but also from allergies to one of the most popular milk substitutes: soy. Due to the relatively high incidence of the milk allergy, there are many parents who completely avoid giving cow milk to their children at the beginning of their lives.

“Nursing—still the best option”

Researchers from the Asaf HaRofeh Medical Center as well as from the University of Tel Aviv headed by Professor Yitzhak Katz—director of the Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Institute at the hospital—surveyed milk allergies among 13,000 babies born at Asaf HaRofeh from June 2004 till June 2006. The researchers focused on 300 newborns whose mothers complained that their babies suffered from milk allergies. Tests revealed that only 66 of the newborns were actually allergic to milk. The researchers checked what each of the newborns were being fed up until the allergy was discovered (breast milk, formula with a cow milk base, formula with a soy milk base or another base) and which allergic reactions the newborn developed.

The researchers diagnosed the allergy to cow milk via skin tests and by controlled oral administering of milk. They revealed that the incidence of type IgE milk allergy (the most common and dangerous allergy to milk protein) was only .5%, and not in the higher percentage range (between 2-5%) that they estimated beforehand.

It was also found that only .05% of the babies that drank cow milk during the first two weeks of life developed the standard version of the allergy, compared with 1.75% of the babies who began drinking cow milk from between 105-194 days after birth, meaning a later stage. None of the babies developed a demonstrable allergy to soy.

Professor Yitzhak Katz notes that the findings of the research show that adding cow milk at an early age can almost completely prevent the development of the main allergy to cow milk. “In order to prevent the allergy, there is no need for lactose-free milk substitutes, which today are given to babies that suffer from milk allergies, and are much more expensive than regular formula” said Professor Katz.

He emphasizes that breastfeeding remains the best way of nourishing a baby, and one cannot conclude from the research that it should be stopped. What arises from the research is that one should encourage mothers to give cow milk to their babies along with breastfeeding in order to develop their resistance to the allergy.

The research was funded by the Dairy Council and was published this week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.