Breastfed Babies at a lower Asthma Risk

According to a recent online publication in the European Respiratory Journal, a study by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam in The Netherlands demonstrated that the risk of developing asthma-related symptoms in early childhood is lowered in babies fed only on breast milk up to the age of six months, and this is apparently independent of infectious and allergic diseases. Researchers are of the opinion that babies in developed countries should be only breastfed up to the age of six months.

In an ongoing pursuit to identify early environmental and genetic causes of normal and abnormal growth as well as development and health, multi-ethnic urban children are followed and studied from before birth until early adulthood as a part of the Generation R study, and this research is component of Study.

Researchers said that their findings were the first to establish an association between breastfeeding duration and number of wheezing periods even though other studies have already linked breastfeeding to asthma risk. Children breastfed for fewer months or those fed with other milk or solids in the first four months were found to exhibit early asthma-related symptoms.

Researchers examined the results of breastfeeding duration and the introduction of other liquid and solid food using questionnaire-gathered data of 5,368 children. Three findings were noted from the data: whether the children had been breastfed in their first 12 months of life, when they stopped having breast milk, and whether they were given any other milk or solids, and if so, when.

A second set of data was obtained from questionnaires filled when the children were 1, 2, 3, and 4 years old. This data demonstrated whether the children suffered from diseases and illnesses, including asthma-related symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm.

The results established that:

• The risk of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough and persistent phlegm was higher in children who had never received breast milk in the first 4 years, compared with those who were breastfed for 6 months or more.
• Children who were never breastfed were 1.5 times and 1.4 times more prone to developing persistent phlegm and wheezing, respectively.
• Compared to children who were breastfed in the first four months, those fed with solids, other milk, as well as breast milk were found to have a higher risk of wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm in preschool years.
• Adjusting for potential influencers, the links between breastfeeding and asthma-related symptoms could not be explained by eczema, but partly by lower respiratory tract infections.

To conclude, researchers said that: “Shorter duration and non-exclusivity of breastfeeding were associated with increased risks of asthma-related symptoms in preschool children. These associations seemed at least partly explained by infectious but not by atopic mechanisms.”

In a press meet, lead author Dr Agnes Sonnenschein-van der Voort, who also works in the Department of Pediatrics in the Division of Respiratory Medicine at the Erasmus Center, said that: “These results support current health policy strategies that promote exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months in industrialized countries,” even though more studies are required to determine whether breastfeeding protects against asthma in adult life.

“Duration and exclusiveness of breastfeeding and childhood asthma-related symptoms.”
A.M.M. Sonnenschein-van der Voort, V.V.W. Jaddoe, R.J.P. van der Valk, S.P. Willemsen, A. Hofman, H.A. Moll, J.C. de Jongste, and L. Duijts Eur Respir J erj01781-2010; published ahead of print 20 July 2011: oi:10.1183/09031936.00178110

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