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The cumulative rate of childhood eczema during the first three years was studied in a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand infants. A parental history of eczema was the strongest predictor of rates of childhood eczema but parental asthma was also related to childhood eczema. Children exposed to an early diverse solid-food diet also had increased risks of eczema, but there was no evidence to suggest that breast-feeding practices had any effect on rates of eczema. Analysis of the data suggested that the apparent association between exclusive breast-feeding and reduced rates of eczema reported in previous studies may be because exclusively breast-fed infants were not exposed to early solid feeding rather than to any beneficial effect of breast milk itself.