To reduce the risk of infection, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively (with little or no formula supplementation) for at least 6 months after delivery. But does breastfeeding for the full 6 months really make a difference? According to a recent study from researchers at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and the University of Rochester in New York, following this recommendation may make a significant difference in a baby's ability to resist infection.
In this study, the parents of 2,277 children between 6 and 24 months of age answered questions about:
- whether their babies breastfed and for how long they received only breast milk
- how often their babies had respiratory infections or symptoms, including pneumonia, ear infections, colds, flu, or wheezing
Researchers then compared children who had been fully breastfed for less than 1 month, between 1 and 4 months, between 4 and 6 months, and 6 months or longer.
The results? Babies fed only breast milk for the longest span of time — 6 months or more — were shown to have lower rates of pneumonia and ear infections. Stopping breastfeeding when babies were between 4 and 6 months of age doubled the odds that the infant would experience three or more episodes of ear infections in the first year of life.
What This Means to You
The results from this study support previous recommendations from the AAP that a longer duration of breastfeeding offers babies better protection against respiratory infection. If you choose to breastfeed your child, doing so exclusively for at least the first 6 months appears to offer significant protection against infections. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of developing diarrhea and allergies, and breast milk is easier to digest. If you have any questions about breastfeeding, your child's doctor or a lactation consultant can offer advice and guidance. Many products on the market, such as battery-powered breast pumps, make exclusive breastfeeding easier for busy new moms and mothers who return to work after giving birth.
Source: Caroline J. Chantry, MD; Cynthia R. Howard, MD, MPH; Peggy Auinger, MS; Pediatrics, February 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006