by Randall Neustaedter OMD
Once more we discover the incredible value of breastfeeding for the health of infants. In a study published in the Archives of Disease of Childhood, researchers found that exclusive breastfeeding for six months resulted in less infections of many types compared to babies who did not breastfeed or babies who were partially breastfed. It also showed that the longer babies breastfed the more protection they had from infections (Ladomenoul, 2010).
Babies who were exclusively breastfed had less acute respiratory infections, less ear infections, less thrush, fewer episodes of digestive infections, and fewer hospitalizations. This study included 926 infants over the course of 12 months. An interesting finding was that the protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding for six months resulted in less infections during the entire 12 months. Previous studies have shown less infections in breastfed babies, but many of these studies occurred in populations with poor medical care and babies who were prone to more infections because of low standards of living. This study was conducted in a population of infants with high health standards and adequate medical care.
This study was also different than others because it examined the effect of exclusive breastfeeding compared to partial breastfeeding with additional formula. Partial breastfeeding had no substantial protective effect. Apparently, formula feeding decreases immunity. The authors suggest that their findings suggest an immunomodulatory effect of breastfeeding “hampered by the introduction of formula feeding.”
The fact that exclusive breastfeeding protects against serious infections and hospitalizations is very significant. This study echoes the findings of previous studies that showed the protective effect of breastfeeding on meningitis in infants. Studies in the past have shown that infants who breastfeed longer than three months have a decreased incidence of meningitis compared to infants who breastfeed for less time. The longer that infants breastfeed, the lower their risk of meningitis. In fact their risk of meningitis decreases for each additional week of breastfeeding (Silfverdal, 1997). And this protective effect can persist for many years. Infants who breastfeed have a decreased risk of meningitis even up to 10 years later (Silfverdal, 1999).
The results of this study should further encourage mothers to avoid formula feeding and exclusively breastfeed their babies for as long as possible. Breast milk is the ideal food for babies that provides for a robust immune system and protects babies from infections even long after weaning.
Ladomenou F, et al. Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against infections during infancy: a prospective study. Arch Dis Child. 2010 Dec;95(12):1004-8. Epub 2010 Sep 27.
Silfverdal SA, et al. Protective effect of breastfeeding on invasive Haemophilus influenza infection: a case-control study in Swedish preschool children. International Journal of Epidemiology. 1997; 26(2):443-60.
Silfverdal SA, et al. Protective effect of breast-feeding: an ecologic study of Haemophilus influenza meningitis and breastfeeding in a Swedish population. International Journal of Epidemiology 1999; 28(1):152-6.