A radio program over the weekend had a doctor who stated that people who were breast fed as babies were at a greatly reduced risk of adult onset allergies and that the vast majority of patients she was seeing with adult allergies were not breast fed a children.

This site claims:

Breastfeeding increases long term allergy risks in those with a family history, says University of Melbourne study

Is there any evidence that strongly supports a link one way or the other?

1 Answer 1


Yes, there is a University of Melbourne study!

  • Breast-feeding and atopic disease: A cohort study from childhood to middle age, Melanie Claire Matheson, Bircan Erbas, Aindralal Balasuriya, Mark Andrew Jenkins, Cathryn Leisa Wharton, Mimi Lai-Kuan Tang, Michael John Abramson, Eugene Haydn Walters, John Llewelyn Hopper, Shyamali Chandrika Dharmage, The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology 1 November 2007 (volume 120 issue 5 Pages 1051-1057 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2007.06.030)

They based on the results of the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study (TAHS - sic.) which started with 8,500 children - although the abstract doesn't mention the sample sizes they used.

At age 7 years, exclusively breast-fed children with a maternal history of atopy had a marginally lesser risk of current asthma than those not exclusively breast-fed (odds ratio [OR], 0.8; 95% CI, 0.6-1.0). However, after age 7 years, the risk reversed, and exclusively breast-fed children had an increased risk of current asthma at 14 (OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.02-2.07), 32 (OR, 1.84; 95% CI, 1.06-3.3), and 44 (OR, 1.57; 95% CI, 1.15-2.14) years. Exclusively breast-fed children also had a reduced risk of food allergy at age 7 years but an increased risk of food allergy (OR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.1-1.5) and allergic rhinitis (OR, 1.2; 95% CI, 1.0-1.3) at 44 years.

The ORs (Odds Ratios) aren't huge. You aren't condemning your child to certain asthma (or protecting them outright) based on your feeding choices. Other factors may be stronger.


Exclusively breast-fed babies with a maternal history of atopy were less likely to develop asthma before the age of 7 years, but more likely to develop asthma after the age of 7 years.

Clinical implications

The current recommendation to breast-feed high-risk infants for protection against early wheezing illness can be confirmed. However, the recommendation should be reconsidered for protection against allergic asthma and atopy in the longer term.

The do mention that the existing literature is contradictory. Perhaps this surprising result of reducing the short-term risk but increasing the long-term risk explains some of the difficulty.

  • hmm this is the opposite of how I understood the claim on the radio though...
    – Chad
    Jul 30, 2012 at 18:01
  • Could it be that this weird short-term versus long-term risk crossover confused you (or the radio announcer)?
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 30, 2012 at 18:05
  • Actually she was expounding on the benefits of breast feeding and how formula should be avoided.
    – Chad
    Jul 30, 2012 at 18:06

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