Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant
Breastfeeding has physical and emotional benefits for both mother and baby; and we know that breastfeeding can potentially reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, until now research has provided inconsistent evidence of a protective factor associated with breastfeeding specifically on risk if SIDS.
A new meta-analysis conducted by Professor Hauck and colleagues, examined whether breastfeeding specifically, that is by itself, lowered the risk of SIDS. The study evaluated the protective effect of breastfeeding associated with SIDS and the influence of exclusive and longer duration of breastfeeding associated with greater reduction of SIDS risk.
The study concludes that the rate of SIDS is 60% lower among babies who were breastfed to any extent and duration compared to formula fed infants. However, the rate of SIDS is 70% lower in exclusively breastfed infants, so the protective effect is stronger for exclusive breastfeeding. The conclusions confirm that breastfeeding in isolation of any other protective factors, such as absence of smoke exposure and socioeconomic status is protective.
The association between breastfeeding and SIDS reduction then is dose related, but the protective effect is also biological. Compared to babies who are formula fed breastfed babies are more easily aroused from active sleep at 2-3 months – within the peak age of 2-4 months for SIDS. Breast milk also provides immunity; it provides babies with immunoglobulins and cytokines that may help to protect them from minor infections that may make SIDS more likely at the vulnerable age of 2-4 months.
So, in light of their conclusions the authors make these recommendations to reduce risk of SIDS; “Therefore, we recommend that mothers breastfeed their infants as a potential way to reduce their risk of SIDS. Ideally, breastfeeding should be exclusive (ie. formula should not be given) for at least 4-6 months and should be continued until the infant is at least 1 year of age”.
Please note though, that the World Health Organisation also recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, but also recommends continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to or beyond the age of 2 years.
View the study here:
Hauck, R., Thompson, J., Tanabe, K., Moon, R and Vennemann M. Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A meta-analysis Pediatrics 2011;128;103; published online June 13th 2011; DOI:10.1542/peds.2010-3000.
The World Health Organisation’s Infant Feeding Recommendation.