Breastfeeding protects against asthma

Breastfeeding protects against asthma

The breastfeeding of infants has a ‘clear protective effect’ against children developing asthma or wheezing up to the age of six years, new research from New Zealand has found.

The study, by the University of Otago in Christchurch and Wellington, looked at 1105 infants in Christchurch and Wellington over six years and showed that exclusive – or indeed, any – breastfeeding had a protective effect on the development of asthma in young children.

The study team asked questions about breastfeeding and gathered information on wheezing and asthma in the children when they were 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 years old.

The protective effect was particularly strong in infants and children who were atopic, that is, had allergies and were therefore more vulnerable to asthma.

Exclusive breastfeeding for three months in the atopic children reduced current asthma by 59%, reducing their risk to the same as the non-atopic children.

‘These are very robust and convincing results which support a global public health message to breastfeed to prevent asthma,’ says lead author Dr Karen Silvers from the University of Otago, Christchurch.

‘If every infant in this NZ cohort had been exclusively breastfed for six months, as is recommended by the [World Health Organization] WHO, current asthma would have been reduced by 50% at 2 years, 42% at 3, 30% at 4, 42% at 5 and 32% at 6 years.’

However the study also showed a waning of the impact of breastfeeding after 4 years of age.

Images normalise breastfeeding

Meanwhile, the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) has called for images of mothers breastfeeding their babies to be viewed as ‘a reflection of nature’ and normal in our society.

‘The publication of images of mothers breastfeeding their babies is critical to the process of normalising breastfeeding in our culture,’ says ABA spokesperson Karen Ingram.

‘It is our hope that people will become increasingly accustomed to seeing mothers breastfeeding their babies and that it will be simply unremarkable.

‘There is an imbalance of images reflecting infant feeding in Australia, from even subtle images such as directional signs with a bottle showing the way to a parent care room in shopping centres, to sexualisation of breasts in advertising, film and television.

‘Breastfeeding in public is allowed and legal. A mother’s right to breastfeed her child in public places is protected by law both federally and in every state and territory. The recent change to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act is yet another way to support the normalisation of the image of breastfeeding in our country.’

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