Association between Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding and Risk of Infection

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Topic(s): Nutrition Health & Wellness Obesity Nutrition & Disease Management

Prolonged Breastfeeding Reduces the Risk of Possible Health Problems in Infants

A millennium cohort study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition focused on the risk of infection associated with the duration of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF).

The study analysed the data on 15,809 term, singleton infants who were grouped based on the months of EBF: never breastfed, < 2, 2–4, 4–6, and >6 months. Infants breastfed for at least 4 months were further grouped as those EBF for >6 months (post-2001 World Health Organization [WHO] policy), those EBF for 4–6 months with solid food introduced at 4–6 months and still breastfeeding at 6 months (pre-2001 WHO policy), and those with other feeding patterns. The mothers were interviewed about the infant’s medical consultations, hospital admissions, and possible health problems (chest infections, ear infections, diarrhoea, etc.).

Among the 15,809 infants, 35.7% of infants were EBF for < 2 months, 14.8% were EBF for 2–4 months, 34% were never breastfed, 7.1% were fed as per the pre-2001 WHO policy, and 1.2% of infants were fed as per the post-2001WHO policy. The duration of EBF did not increase the risk of ear infection but significantly increased the risk of chest infection and diarrhoea. When compared to infants fed as per the pre-2001 WHO policy, infants who were EBF for <4 months had a significantly increased risk of chest infection and diarrhoea, and infants who were EBF for at least 4 months, but stopped before 6 months, had an excess risk of diarrhoea. However, no significant difference was noted in the risk of chest infection or diarrhoea among infants fed as per the pre- and post-2001 WHO policy.

The study demonstrated that infants EBF for <4 months or for 4–6 months but stopped breastfeeding by 6 months are at high risk for infections. These findings support the current WHO recommendations of EBF for 4–6 or 6 months, with continued breastfeeding thereafter.

News source - Quigley MA, Carson C, Sacker A, et al. Exclusive breastfeeding duration and infant infection. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.135.