Drinking Cow Milk During Lactation Affects the Child’s Risk of Allergies

Drinking Cow Milk During Lactation Reduces Risk of Food Allergy in Offspring
Source: John Browne/Chalmers ​
  • About 30% of children in industrialized countries suffer from allergies.
  • Researchers in Sweden surveyed over 500 Swedish women’s eating habits and assessed their children for allergies at one year of age.
  • Results showed infants of mothers who drank cow milk during lactation, had a reduced risk of developing food allergies

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, aimed to investigate the effect of maternal diet during lactation and pregnancy on the development of allergies in offspring. They recruited over 500 pregnant women, part of the NICE project (Nutritional impact on Immunological maturation during Childhood in relation to the Environment). The results showed a significant association between maternal consumption of cow milk during lactation and the prevalence of allergies in their offspring at one year of age.

The prevalence of allergic diseases has steadily increased in industrialized countries over the past few decades. Although allergic asthma usually appears later in life, food allergies and atopic eczema generally present within the first year of life. The exact reason for the development of allergies is still unclear. However, doctors hypothesize it occurs due to a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Drinking Cow’s Milk During Lactation Shown to Reduce Allergy Risk

In the study, the researchers assessed the maternal diet using questionnaires. In the questionnaires, the mothers gave detailed accounts of their eating habits. These were completed at the 34th week of pregnancy, one month and four months after birth. A pediatrician then evaluated the children at one year of age for the presence of allergic diseases. Moreover, researchers assessed the maternal blood and breast milk for biomarkers such as fatty acids found in cow’s milk.

We have found that mothers of healthy one-year-olds consumed more cow’s milk during breastfeeding than mothers of allergic one-year-olds. Though​ the association is clear, we do not claim that drinking cow’s milk would be a general cure for food allergies

Mia Stråvik, first author of the study.

Results showed a lower prevalence of food allergies in children whose mothers reported drinking cow’s milk during lactation. Furthermore, the prevalence of atopic eczema was much greater in children whose mothers reported intake of berries and fruits during lactation.

Why is it so?

Researchers suggest a likely explanation for such results is the high levels of fat in cow’s milk. The increased amount of saturated fats leads to decreased intake of unsaturated fats which can suppress the immune system. Thus, ensuring the development of the immune system during early life and preventing allergy development.

One hypothesis is that cow’s milk contains something that activates the child’s immune system and helps it to develop tolerance. This as-yet-unknown cause could be found in the fat of the milk or in its protein content. But it could also be the case that the milk itself is neutral in relation to the immune system.

Malin Barman, researcher

The next step for the team is to examine the children till the age of four to further assess their risk of allergies.


Stråvik, M., et al. (2020) Maternal Intake of Cow’s Milk during Lactation Is Associated with Lower Prevalence of Food Allergy in Offspring. Nutrientsdoi.org/10.3390/nu12123680.


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