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Breastfeeding May Help
Prevent Asthma in Children


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adding more weight to the nutritionist's axiom that ``breast is best,'' researchers say mother's milk may help protect newborns and young children from developing asthma.

``We certainly have known for a long time that breastfeeding has a lot of health benefits,'' said study co-author Dr. Teresa To of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. ``So I think it is not so much surprising but very reassuring to not only see that there is a protective effect against asthma but that the longer you breastfeed, the better the effect.''

To and her colleague Dr. Sharon Dell looked into the first-year year breastfeeding habits of more than 2,000 Canadian mothers. At the time of the study, the children were between 12 and 24 months old.

Six percent of children studied had some form of asthma, the researchers report in the current issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and almost 1 in 4 had a history of wheezing. While wheezing is an asthma symptom, it is not always associated with the disease.

The researchers found that infant or childhood asthma was associated with several risk factors apart from breastfeeding, including having parents with asthmatic conditions, having parents who smoked before or after the child's birth, being premature, having low birth weight and being a male child.

Breastfeeding duration as an isolated factor appeared to play a significant role in blocking the development of asthma. Babies who had been breast fed for at least 9 months appeared to gain protection against the disease.

However, the researchers pointed out that more than 40% of the babies had been breast fed for less than 2 months--or not at all.

Asthma remains an incurable chronic illness, and death from the disease is highest among children aged 1 to 4, an age group accounting for about half of all asthma-related emergency room visits.

``Breastfeeding duration depends on the family and depends on the child, but from a public health standpoint we have shown that if you breastfeed your baby for more than 9 months the effect of reducing the risk of asthma is very, very good,'' To told Reuters Health. But she said that because breastfeeding for that length of time is ``not always feasible'' for various reasons, ``a reasonable recommendation would be to breastfeed your baby for at least 4 to 6 months. That may be a more achievable goal.''

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 2001;155:1261-1265.


Reference Source 89

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