Mothers don't have to breastfeed exclusively to get the benefit, either.
"Breastfeeding for just two months reduces the risk of SIDS by almost half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection," Fern Hauck, M.D., an associate professor at the UVA School of Medicine and the UVA Children's Hospital, says in a statement.
"The other important finding from our study is that any amount of breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS—in other words, both partial and exclusive breastfeeding appear to provide the same benefit," she adds.
This isn't the first research to link breastfeeding with a lower risk of SIDS, but it is the first that specifies how long a child must be breastfed to receive the protection.
She says the report is a good reminder that women do not have to breastfeed exclusively for their children to receive health benefits.
"Any amount of breastfeeding is protective," Sarantinoudis-Jones adds. "Breastfeeding is not all or nothing. Every drop truly does count."
To determine the effects of breastfeeding on SIDS risk, the researchers analyzed eight major international studies that examined 2,259 cases of SIDS and 6,894 control infants where death did not occur. This large collective sample demonstrated the consistency of findings despite differing cultural behaviors across countries, and it provides convincing evidence of the reliability of the findings.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than eight in 10 mothers begin breastfeeding after birth. The problem: Many stop earlier than the six-month recommendation; only 51.8 percent of babies are still breastfeeding by that time.
The UVA researchers hope their findings will result in higher breastfeeding rates.