Rural parents’ adherence to infant feeding guidelines to prevent allergy: a cross sectional study in New South Wales

Gianni Rossi, Jessica Cesca, Charmie Fong, Andrew Wallace, Peter Simmons, Uchechukwu Levi Osuagwu, Jannine Bailey, Tegan Dutton, Adambarage Chandima De Alwis

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Background: Responding to international research showing that early introduction of common food allergens can reduce the chance of developing allergies, in 2016 the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) revised allergen introduction guidelines, recommending earlier introduction of allergens to infants in their first year. Australia has high food allergy rates, and limited understanding of adherence to allergen introduction guidelines, especially in rural areas. This project explored rural parent adherence to ASCIA guidelines. Methods: This was a mixed method cross sectional study using an online survey including multiple-choice and qualitative short answer responses. The sample were 336 women from two rural health districts in New South Wales. All were aged 18 or over, and either pregnant or had delivered a baby since July 2018. Descriptive statistics were used to measure behavioural alignment with the recommended guidelines, thematic analysis was used to analyse attitudes and explanations. Results: In 84.3% of children, feeding adhered to all four guidelines studied, including no elimination of allergens during pregnancy (98%), age of introduction of solids (97.7%), continuation of breast milk/cow’s milk formula during introduction of solids (95%), and age of introduction of allergens (92.9%). Adherence was not significantly correlated with the education (X2 = 17.9, P =.056), prior history of allergy [neither mother (X2 = 0.945,P =.623) nor previous children (X2 = 0.401,P =.818)], or primary care received during pregnancy. More than 90% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the guidelines are realistic, trustworthy, and important for the health of their child. However, thematic analysis revealed that parents’ perceptions of a child’s individual progress, and medical conditions or other circumstances, such as challenges with breastfeeding, will often take precedence over adherence to specific guideline recommendations. Conclusions: High rates of adherence with ASCIA guidelines found here are comparable with findings from metropolitan studies and encouraging for future population health. Participant comments on the guidelines imply to rural policymakers that there are multiple influences on parent decisions about infant feeding, often including parents’ own intuition and experiences. Further studies to improve understanding of the role of information, carers, and other influences on parent decision-making concerning feeding attitudes and behaviours will be necessary to optimise adherence in rural areas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2458
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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