Extended Breastfeeding May Curb Infections

Exclusively breastfeeding for six months cuts risk of infection in half.

March 6, 2006 -- Breastfeeding for just two more months can have a major impact on your child's health, says a new study. The study, published in the February issue of Pediatrics magazine, shows that babies who are fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life are less likely to suffer from respiratory disease than those whose mothers stopped breastfeeding only two months earlier.

The study followed more than 2,000 children until their second birthday. The results showed that children whose mothers stopped breastfeeding between the ages of 4 months and 6 months suffered from recurring inner ear infections twice as often, and pneumonia four times as often, as babies who were exclusively breastfed until they were 6 months or older.

Taken into consideration in the study were other risk facts that are associated with respiratory infection, such as smoke exposure, day care attendance, and family size.

The study went on to report that ceasing breastfeeding at four months increased a child's risk of respiratory infection even more than day care attendance or smoke exposure, which had previously been considered the greatest indicators of a child's risk of infection.

However, the study only compared children who were exclusively breastfed to those whose mother's stopped breastfeeding them completely. Babies who were fed a balance of breast milk and formula were not taken into account.

The study stresses that while six months was the duration of exclusive breastfeeding with the most significant decreases in risk of infection, it's by no means when a mother should stop breastfeeding. Long-term breastfeeding -- even up to 2 years of age -- will continue to reduce a child's chances of developing ear infections, pneumonia, or other respiratory infections.

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