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Breastfed babies less feverish after vaccination

Breastfeeding protects babies from fever that is seen after routine immunizations. Its common for an infant to have some fever soon after immunization.

Breastfed babies less feverish after vaccination

Breastfeeding protects babies from fever that is seen after routine immunisations.

Its common for an infant to have some fever soon after immunisation. The immune system of the babies responds with local (pain, redness, swelling) and systemic (fever, decreased appetite) reactions after vaccination. Post-vaccination fever is usually mild and of short duration. Nonetheless, 1-2% of infants can have high fever, which can represent a stress for them and their families.

Breast and bottle-fed babies are known to respond differently to vaccines and to illness. To investigate whether breastfeeding might protect against fever, researchers made 450 mothers from Italy keep track of their baby's temperature for three days after immunisation. Once babies had received the first or second set of two combination vaccines (against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio, Haemophilis influenzae type b, and pneumococcal infection), mothers took the infant's temperature that evening and daily for three more days. The information about fever was obtained over telephone on the third day after vaccination.

One hundred twenty infants were exclusively breastfed at the time of immunisation, 154 were partially breastfed, and 176 were bottle-fed. It was found that those receiving the vaccine for the first time were about three months old, on average; those having their second set of shots were about six months old. One-quarter of the exclusively breastfed babies, 31 percent of the partially breastfed babies, and 53 percent of the bottle-fed babies developed fever of at least 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) after being immunised. For 90 percent of the entire group, fever occurred in the first day after immunisation; three-quarters had fevers lasting just one day. Just eight of the infants - four partially breastfed, and four not breastfed - had fevers above 39 degrees Celsius (just above 102 degrees Fahrenheit).

It was found that the risk of fever for the breastfed babies was 54 percent lower than for the bottle-fed babies, while partially breastfed babies had a 42 percent lower risk. The apparent protective effect of breastfeeding remained even after the researchers accounted for factors like mother's education and the number of other children in the home.

The researchers speculated that breast milk could reduce the production of inflammation-promoting proteins released after immunisation, while breastfeeding itself could also comfort feverish children and encourage them to eat.
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