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Breastfeeding shields against SIDS

Breast-feeding appears to reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 73 percent, especially when babies are exclusively breast-fed.

Breastfeeding shields against SIDS

Breast-feeding appears to reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 73 percent, especially when babies are exclusively breast-fed.

Breast-feeding has many benefits for mothers' and infants' health and breast milk is widely considered the best food for infants. Studies have shown that breast-feeding aids babies' development and reduces the risk of disease for both infants and their mothers. Now, there is more evidence that breast-feeding may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which claims the lives of about 2,300 infants a year in the United States. It is unclear whether breastfeeding specifically lowers SIDS risk, because study results have been conflicting.

Researchers looked at the connection between breast-feeding and SIDS by doing a meta-analysis of 18 previous studies where they looked for common threads by combining the results of individual studies. Although the studies were from many different countries, and heterogeneous populations were represented, the individual outcomes for breastfeeding in relation to SIDS were similar. Their analysis showed that for infants who received any amount of breast milk for any time period, there was a 60 percent reduction in the risk of SIDS. When the researchers took into account other factors such as socioeconomic status, smoking and infant sleep position, the reduction in the risk of SIDS dropped to 45 percent. However, when the researchers looked at the reduced risk of SIDS among infants who were exclusively breast-fed, the risk was reduced by 73 percent.

The results indicate that breast-feeding is strongly protective against SIDS with exclusive breast-feeding conferring s the most protection. Although the reasons for the association between breast-feeding and the reduced risk of SIDS are unclear, there are several theories.

The researchers hypothesised that breast-fed infants are more arousable from sleep than formula-fed infants at 2 to 3 months of age and this may be due to the infants' need to be nursed, which may interrupt sleep. (SIDS appears to be linked to a defect in arousability from sleep, according to some experts.) In addition, breast-fed infants have fewer bouts of diarrhea and upper and lower respiratory infections, which are associated with vulnerability to SIDS. Breastfeeding also confers immunologic advantages over formula feeding by providing immunoglobulins and cytokines that may protect infants during the vulnerable period for SIDS, when their own production of immunoglobulin is low and their maternally acquired levels are decreasing.
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Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that recommendation to breastfeed infants should be included with other SIDS risk-reduction messages to both reduce the risk of SIDS and promote breastfeeding for its many other infant and maternal health benefits.

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