February 7, 2006

Breastfeeding Protects Babies against Lung Disease

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of an infant's life reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections, compared with breastfeeding for shorter durations, according to a new study.

The authors of the report, in the medical journal Pediatrics, point out that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended a 6-month breastfeeding duration -- in part, based on study findings showing protection against gastrointestinal infection. While it had been thought that this practice would also protect against respiratory tract infections, data supporting this was lacking.

To investigate, Dr. Caroline J. Chantry, from the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, a home survey conducted between 1988 and 1994.

Data from 2277 children between 6 and 24 months of age were included in the analysis.

The rate of pneumonia in infants breastfed for at least 6 months was 1.6 percent, significantly lower than the 6.5 percent rate seen in infants breastfed for 4 to less than 6 months.

Compared with babies breastfed for the recommended 6 months' duration, those breastfed for 4 to less than 6 months were more than four times more likely to develop pneumonia, and almost twice as likely to have three or more episodes of otitis media, or severe ear infection.

"This analysis is the first to document decreased risk for respiratory tract infection, particularly recurrent otitis media, in children who are fully breastfed for 6 vs. 4 months," the authors state. They say their findings "support current recommendations that infants receive only breast milk during the first 6 months of life."

SOURCE: Pediatrics, February 2006.