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Breastfeeding prevents infant wheezing

Smoking during pregnancy, daycare attendance and breastfeeding are some of the main factors people can change to affect whether their infants develop wheezing.

Breastfeeding prevents infant wheezing

Smoking during pregnancy, daycare attendance and breastfeeding are some of the main factors people can change to affect whether their infants develop wheezing.

Wheezing refers to a high-pitched whistling sound, most obvious during exhalation, which is usually caused by blockages in the small breathing tubes in the chest. Occasional wheezing is common in infancy, with an estimated 40 percent of children having at least one bout before age of 3 years. Wheezing in young children is often related to viral infections, and usually does not mean that a child will eventually be diagnosed with asthma. But young children with recurrent wheezing - defined as three or more episodes in a year - over time are relatively more likely to develop asthma, particularly if they have risk factors such as family history of allergies and asthma.

To study the risk factors of wheezing during the first year of an infant's life, researchers looked at 28,687 children in two European and four Latin American countries. Parents answered questionnaires relating to the first year of their infant's life during routine health visits. Wheezing was stratified into occasional (1 - 2 episodes) and recurrent (3 or more episodes).

It was found that overall, babies who had had a cold in the first three months of life were roughly three times more likely than other infants to develop recurrent bouts of wheezing before their first birthday. There was a similar risk linked to having been in daycare during the first year of life. Another key factor seen in both Europe and Latin America was smoking during pregnancy, which was linked to a 45 to 50 percent increase in the risk of recurrent wheezing. On the other hand, breastfeeding for more than three months was linked to lower chances of recurrent wheezing across countries: overall, babies breastfed that long were about 20 percent less likely to have recurrent wheezing than those who were breastfed for shorter periods or not at all.

Early daycare attendance may boost the risk of infant wheezing by exposing babies to more viruses, whereas breastfeeding may help prevent such infections, and wheezing.

The researchers promote breastfeeding as a potential way to lower risk of early-life infections and wheezing.
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