Another benefit from breastfeeding: decrease in SIDS

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Existing guidelines suggest that new mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months, and a new study may persuade even more women to do so. The study, in the July issue of Pediatrics, suggests that breastfeeding can significantly reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Dr. Fern Hauck led colleagues at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in an analysis of 18 existing studies on breastfeeding and SIDS, finding that there was a 73 percent reduction in the risk of SIDS when breast milk was an infant s sole source of nutrition for any duration. Perhaps the best news is that researchers found that breastfeeding for any duration, even when supplemented with formula, still was linked to a 60 percent reduction in the risk of SIDS.

While Dr. Hauk and her colleagues acknowledge that their findings could not absolutely establish a cause-and-effect relationship between breastfeeding and reduced risk of SIDS, they believe the evidence is strong. For instance, the group noted that breastfed babies are more easily roused from sleep compared with bottle-fed babies during the two to four months of age when the risk of SIDS is greatest, and that breastfeeding confers immunity against minor infections often seen just before SIDS. While impressed with the substantial reduction in SIDS risk that breastfeeding would appear to confer, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is not convinced that the decreased risk is actually due to something in breast milk itself. More likely, he says, it s something related to a baby s sleep environment including, perhaps, interaction with the mother.

On the other hand," ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom speculates, "there is some chance that some component of the milk may be at least partially responsible for this very large effect. Isolating and purifying whatever this substance is would be quite a breakthrough.