Breastfeeding and allergic disease: a multidisciplinary review of the literature (1966-2001) on the mode of early feeding in infancy and its impact on later atopic manifestations

Allergy. 2003 Sep;58(9):833-43. doi: 10.1034/j.1398-9995.2003.00264.x.


Background: Strategies to prevent children from developing allergy have been elaborated on the basis of state-of-the-art reviews of the scientific literature regarding pets and allergies, building dampness and health, and building ventilation and health. A similar multidisciplinary review of infant feeding mode in relation to allergy has not been published previously. Here, the objective is to review the scientific literature regarding the impact of early feeding (breast milk and/or cow's milk and/or formula) on development of atopic disease. The work was performed by a multidisciplinary group of Scandinavian researchers.

Methods: The search in the literature identified 4323 articles that contained at least one of the exposure and health effect terms. A total of 4191 articles were excluded mainly because they did not contain information on both exposure and health effects. Consequently, 132 studies have been scrutinized by this review group.

Results: Of the 132 studies selected, 56 were regarded as conclusive. Several factors contributed to the exclusions. The studies considered conclusive by the review group were categorized according to population and study design.

Conclusions: The review group concluded that breastfeeding seems to protect from the development of atopic disease. The effect appears even stronger in children with atopic heredity. If breast milk is unavailable or insufficient, extensively hydrolysed formulas are preferable to unhydrolysed or partially hydrolysed formulas in terms of the risk of some atopic manifestations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / genetics
  • Hypersensitivity / prevention & control*
  • Infant Formula
  • Milk / adverse effects
  • Milk Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Risk Assessment