It s well known that breastfeeding is beneficial for both mother and child in a variety of ways in addition to the transfer of natural antibodies, it is associated with lower risks of allergic diseases, lower respiratory infections and middle ear infections. Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives.
Now a new meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests longer breast-feeding may be linked to a lower risk of childhood leukemia. Dr. Efrat L. Amitay and Dr. Lital Keinan-Boker of the University of Haifa Medical School in Israel examined data from 18 case-control studies that included breastfeeding as children s exposure and childhood leukemia as an outcome. In particular, they evaluated the relationship between the duration of breastfeeding and the occurrence of leukemia.
The main outcome of their evaluation was that compared with infants not breastfed at all, or those with less than 6 months of breastfeeding, babies breastfed for 6 months or longer had a 19 percent lower risk of developing childhood leukemia. In a separate analysis, they also found that infants who had some breastfeeding had an 11 percent lower risk of leukemia than babies who had none. These differences were statistically significant.
The authors concluded ¦promoting breastfeeding for 6 months or more may help lower childhood leukemia incidence, in addition to its other health benefits for children and mothers.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented These results obviously add to the list of benefits that breastfeeding may provide. However, it s important to realize that these data come from case-control studies, which is not the most robust type of investigation. Case-control studies evaluate possible associations between cases--that is individuals who have a particular disease, and controls--those without the disease. Although investigators try to assure that both cases and controls are carefully matched, there is still the possibility that the results may be confounded by uncontrolled variables. Certainly the results should be confirmed by independent investigators before they are widely accepted and incorporated into advice for parents about feeding their babies.