Exclusive breastfeeding may prevent asthma

Researchers from the Generation R Study, Erasmus Medical Centre in The Netherlands have used data from 5,000 children to ascertain that feeding a baby on breast milk alone for up to six months after birth can reduce asthma-related symptoms in early childhood. The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, looked at the impact of the duration of breastfeeding and the introduction of alternative liquids or solids as well as breast milk.

The data from the first 12 months was supplemented by data taken from questionnaires when the children were aged 1, 2, 3 and 4 years old. The results showed that children who had never been breastfed had an increased risk of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough and persistent phlegm during their first four years compared to children who had been breastfed for more than six months. Children who were fed other milk or solids during their first four months in addition to breast milk had an increased risk of the same symptoms compared to children who had been exclusively breastfed for the first four months.

This is the first research to show that there is a link between the length of time babies are exclusively breastfed and the number of wheezing episodes and other asthma-related symptoms. The study also shows that the first asthma-related symptoms appear earlier in children who were breastfed for shorter periods.

Lead author Dr Agnes Sonnenschein-van der Voort says the findings of the study support current health policy which advocates exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Source: European Respiratory Journal

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