Feeding a baby only breast milk and for up to 6 months after birth can reduce its risk of developing asthma-related symptoms in early childhood, according to a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal. The study looked at the impact of the duration of breastfeeding and introduction of alternative liquids or solids in addition to breast milk.
Using questionnaires to gather data from more than 5,000 children, the researchers used the results to determine in the first 12 months after birth whether the children had ever been breastfed, when breastfeeding stopped, and whether any other milk or solids were introduced. Additional questionnaires were completed when the children reached ages 1, 2, 3, and 4 years to check whether they had any asthma-related symptoms.
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 4 years, compared to children who were breastfed for more than 6 months. The strongest links were seen with wheezing and persistent phlegm, as children were 1.4 and 1.5 times more likely to develop these symptoms if they had never been breastfed.
Children who were fed other milk or solids during their first 4 months in addition to breast mile had an increased risk of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm during the first 4 years, compared to children who were exclusively breastfed for their first 4 months
Previous studies have shown a similar effect between breastfeeding and asthma risk, but this study is the first that showed a link between the length of breastfeeding and the number of wheezing episodes. This study also uncovered evidence that the first asthma-related symptoms occur earlier in life if children were breastfed for shorter lengths of time or not exclusively.
Source: European Lung Foundation