Breast-Feeding for 6 Months May Prevent Infant
TUESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Children who derive all
their nutrition from breast-milk during their first six months of
life are less prone to a host of common infections, new Greek
And when infection strikes, the ensuing illness is typically
less severe among children who are exclusively breast-fed (having
ingested no substitute formula) in their first half year, the study
The research, led by Emmanouil Galanakis from the department of
pediatrics at the University of Crete in Heraklion, Greece, is
published in the Sept. 28 online edition of the
Archives of Disease in Childhood.
In 2004, Galanakis and his colleagues looked at the feeding
patterns and infection rates among nearly 1,000 Greek infants from
birth to 1 year of age. All the infants had received their routine
vaccinations and all were deemed to have access to high-quality
The study authors found that at the 1-month mark, a little more
than 60 percent of the mothers breast-fed their infants to some
degree, but only about 25 percent did so exclusively.
At the six-month mark, only 17 percent continued to breast-feed,
and only 10 percent did so exclusively.
Infection incidence -- including respiratory and urinary
infections, ear infections (otitis media), stomach upsets
(gastroenteritis), conjunctivitis and thrush -- were tracked at the
one-, three-, six-, nine- and 12-month marks.
Analyzing the numbers, the researchers observed that the longer
an infant was breast-fed exclusively, the lower the child's risk
for infection. Longer exclusive breast-feeding also appeared to
translate into fewer visits to a doctor and fewer infection-related
The finding, which has been seen in previous studies, held up
even after accounting for other factors that can influence the
frequency of infections, including exposure to cigarette smoke,
ethnicity, the number of siblings in a household, and parental age
The 91 children who were exclusively breast-fed for a full six
months also experienced less severe infections when they got them,
the authors noted. Partial breast-feeding, however, did not offer
the same kind of protection.
Why is breast-feeding so good for infants? Galanakis and his
associates theorized that the nutritional and immunological
benefits are rooted in the antibodies found in mothers' milk.
"Exclusive breast-feeding helps protect infants against common infections and lessens the frequency and severity of infectious episodes not only in developing countries but also in communities with adequate vaccination coverage and health care standards," the study authors concluded in a news release from the journal's publisher.
Womenshealth.gov has more about the benefits of
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