According to a new study, babies who are breastfed are less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The authors write in Pediatrics that other explanations seem unlikely.
“Breastfeeding is the best method of feeding infants,” Dr. Fern Hauck, the study’s lead author from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, said in a statement to Reuters Health.
SIDS is defined as a sudden and unexplained death in a baby less than a year old. According to the National Institute of Health, it is most common in infants between two and four months old and kills about 2,500 infants in the U.S. each year.
Researchers are not sure what causes SIDS, but they do know African American and male babies are more likely to die from SIDS.
Hauck said one theory is the cause of SIDS is that it happens in babies sleeping with their faces down or heads covered who do not turn their heads or cry like most babies would, and slowly suffocate.
The authors said breastfeeding could be linked to SIDS because it protects infants against minor infections that have also been shown to make sudden death more likely.
The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life.
Hauck and her colleagues said data from 18 studies asked mothers of infants who had or had not died of SIDS about whether they breastfed the infants.
The researchers found the rate of SIDS was 60 percent lower among infants who had any amount of breastfeeding compared to those who did not breastfeed.
However, they said more research is needed to see if the duration of breastfeeding affects the risk of SIDS.
The analysis does not definitively show that there is a cause and effect relationship between breastfeeding and SIDS risk.
“We found a protective effect even after controlling for factors that could explain the association,” Hauck said in a statement.
He said babies who sleep in the same room as their parents and those who use a pacifier while sleeping also have a smaller risk of sudden death.
The authors said the findings underscore the importance of promoting the positive effects of breastfeeding for both moms and babies.
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