Breastfeeding for at least two months cuts a baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) almost in half, suggests new international study that is the first to determine the duration necessary to provide such protection.
It also determined that mothers do not need to breastfeed exclusively for their baby to receive the benefit, potentially good news for mothers who cannot or choose not to solely breastfeed.
“These results are very powerful”
Previous studies have suggested that breastfeeding was associated with a decreased risk of SIDS, but this study is the first to establish the period of time necessary to provide protection, said researchers.
They found that, after adjusting for variables, breastfeeding for at least two months was associated with a significant decreased risk. Breastfeeding for less than two months did not offer such a benefit.
The researchers analysed eight major international studies that examined 2,259 cases of SIDS and 6,894 control infants where death did not occur.
The large collective sample demonstrated the consistency of findings, despite differing cultural behaviours across different countries, noted the study authors in the journal Pediatrics.
They stated: “Breastfeeding duration of at least two months was associated with half the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding does not need to be exclusive to confer this protection.”
Breastfeeding for at least two months ‘can halve SIDS risk’
Study author Kawai Tanabe, from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said: “These results are very powerful. Breastfeeding is beneficial for so many reasons, and this is really an important one.”
Fellow author Dr Fern Hauck said: “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.”
Based on their results, they called for “ongoing concerted efforts” to increase rates of breastfeeding around the world. The World Health Organization has established a goal of having more than half of infants worldwide being breastfed exclusively for at least six months by 2025.
However, it remains unclear why breastfeeding protects against SIDS, though the researchers cited factors such immune benefits and effects on infant sleeping patterns as possible mechanisms.