Six months of breastfeeding curbs asthma symptoms to age 4

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breastfeeding and asthma in childhood

First study highlights length of breastfeeding for infant respiratory health

Breastfeeding has benefits for respiratory health in infancy and early life, shown by past studies. Research now suggests feeding only breast milk for six months might lower the chances of asthma and related symptoms up to 4 years of age – a finding that is important for new mothers trying to sort out if breastfeeding is worth the time and effort.

In the study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, scientists found waiting to introduce solid foods and other liquids for six months was linked to fewer episodes of wheezing and phlegm for babies, compared to infants not breastfed at all and those given breast milk for shorter duration.

Breastfeeding for six months specifically reduced amount of phlegm and wheezing during infancy. The study found a 1.4 to 1.5 greater chance of respiratory symptoms for infants given other liquids and foods.

Introducing foods before six months of age was found to lead to wheezing, dry cough, phlegm and shortness of breath that persisted up to 4 years of age.

Dr Agnes Sonnenschein-van der Voort, researcher at Generation R and lead author from the Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands, said:


"The link of duration and exclusiveness of breastfeeding with asthma-related symptoms during the first 4 years was independent of infectious and atopic diseases. These results support current health policy strategies that promote exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months in industrialized countries."

The finding is the result of the Generation R Study that included 5000 children. The researchers used questionnaires to find out whether infants were breastfed, for how long and whether other foods were given during the first 12 months following birth.

Follow-up questionnaires were used to evaluate respiratory symptoms up to age 4.
The researchers say more studies are needed to see if exclusive breastfeeding for six months has benefits for curbing asthma related symptoms later in life.

The protective effect against asthma symptoms from breastfeeding and holding off on other foods and liquids for six months is important, given increasing rates of asthma in children. Researches are not certain why asthma during infancy has been on the rise, but some suspect fewer women are breastfeeding, depriving infants of beneficial substances that boost immunity.

"European Respiratory Journal";Duration and Exclusiveness of Breastfeeding and Childhood Asthma-Related Symptoms;
A.M.M. Sonnenschein-van der Voort et al.; July 20 2011

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons