Breastfeeding May Lower SIDS Risk
While society may debate the so-called “propriety” of breastfeeding in public, and media may scrutinize images of breastfeeding women as possibly lewd, science continues to uncover many reasons why breast milk is the ideal form of nutrition for infants under the age of six months. A new meta-analysis, published in the June 13th online edition of the journal Pediatrics, suggests that babies who are breastfed may have lower risks of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The medical definition of SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under the age of a year, which after an autopsy, examination of the scene of the death, and review of the child’s medical history, remains unexplained. SIDS remains the most common cause of death in children ages one month to one year, accounting for 35-55% of deaths in this age group. While the exact causes of SIDS remain unclear, there are several practices which may reduce a baby’s likelihood of dying from this syndrome. These practices include positioning a baby to sleep on its back in a crib, choosing infant bedding which will not obstruct a child’s airways, and maintaining an ambient temperature in the child’s room which prevents a child from overheating. Public health campaigns which reinforce the importance of placing an infant to sleep in the crib on his/her back have caused a drastic reduction in infant mortality from SIDS.
In the interest of identifying whether breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS, researchers identified 288 studies which had data on both breastfeeding and SIDS conducted between 1966 and 2009. Analyses of these data showed that any amount of breastfeeding conferred protection from SIDS. The degree of protection from SIDS was greater for infants who were breastfed exclusively. The researchers in this study recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively (i.e. no supplemental infant formula given) until the ages of four to six months. Furthermore, the researchers recommend that ideally children should be breastfed until the age of one year to maintain the protective effect of breastfeeding against SIDS.
The research suggests that breastfed infants receive immunologic protection from a host of pathogens, some of which cause respiratory and cardiac dysfunction, which may lead to SIDS. Although the researchers cannot definitively state that there is a cause and effect link between breastfeeding and reduced risk of SIDS, they are fairly confident of this association, citing that a protective effect seems to be present, even when other confounding effects are accounted for.
Image courtesy of Daniel Lobo