Research from the Asthma and Allergy Cohort Study Group has provided further convincing evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding.
Dr Karen Silvers with Ava and Leo: "The fact that exclusive breastfeeding protects well beyond the exclusive breastfeeding period – after the introduction of foods or other drinks – is remarkable."
There has been considerable debate over this issue in the scientific literature, but this study of 1,105 infants in Christchurch and Wellington over six years demonstrates that breastfeeding – particularly exclusive breastfeeding – has a strong protective effect against children developing asthma or wheezing up to the age of six years.
This protection is even stronger in those infants who are atopic; that is, those who have allergies and are, therefore, more vulnerable. Exclusive breastfeeding for three months brought their risk down to that of non-atopic children.
“These are very robust and convincing results which support a global public health message to breastfeed to prevent asthma,” says lead author Dr Karen Silvers (University of Otago, Christchurch).
“If every infant in this cohort had been exclusively breast-fed for six months, as is recommended by the World Health Organization, asthma would have been reduced by 50 per cent at two years, 42 per cent at three, 30 percent at four, 42 per cent at five and 32 per cent at six years.”
The study shows a waning of the impact of breastfeeding after four years, which Silvers says is to be expected as children are exposed to other risk factors as they age.
“However, the fact that exclusive breastfeeding protects well beyond the exclusive breastfeeding period – after the introduction of foods or other drinks – is remarkable.”
The study has been published in the Journal of Paediatrics.