Dr. Keadrea Wilson, the study author and Assistant Professor of Neonatology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis said, “Breastfeeding for at least six months was the most protective but, importantly, it is likely that shorter amounts also provide some protection against asthma. In addition to nutrients, breastfeeding contains many factors that may influence how the lung and immune systems develop.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for approximately six months, followed by continued breastfeeding as foods introduced for ≥one year, due to the long list of potential health benefits associated with breastfeeding.
The study was conducted on >2,000 mother-child pairs who were a part of three other studies. Combining the three studies, participants provided a large sample size for analysis with a wider demographic coverage including individuals of different ethnicities. Women were asked about breastfeeding and the presence of asthma symptoms when their children were four to six years old. The longer a mom exclusively breastfed, the less likely her child was to experience any asthma-related outcomes, including wheezing and/or medication usage for treating asthma in the previous two years.’
The study findings demonstrated that in comparison with babies who were breastfed for <2 months, those who were breastfed for two to four months had 36% reduced odds of experiencing wheezing or asthma between the ages of four and six. Furthermore, babies who were breastfed for five to six months had 39% lower odds of developing asthma, and those who breastfed for >6 months had 48% reduced odds. Of note, breastfeeding in combination with juice or formula did not provide the same asthma protection as that provided by exclusive breastfeeding.’
The study findings were reviewed by Dr. Angela Hogan, Vice-chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (ACAAI) Asthma Committee and a Pediatric Allergist and Immunologist at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk.
Dr. Hogan said, “In breast milk, there is a lot of good bacteria to colonize the gut and other protective proteins that keep the body’s immune system from revving up and becoming allergic and causing asthma. ”
Dr. Hogan also mentioned that the ACAAI recommends the introduction of eggs and peanuts to babies at approximately six months of age to prevent egg and peanut allergies. However, this is not possible if a mom is exclusively breastfeeding for the initial six months. Therefore, a pediatrician must be consulted and infants with high risk of food allergies must be identified for whom, the introduction of eggs and peanuts earlier might be beneficial.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Hogan, if breastfeeding cannot be performed, the other ways to help reduce a baby’s asthma risk include minimizing antibiotics use and taking measures such as washing hands often and keeping the newborn at a distance from people with illnesses. Antibiotic overuse can alter the gut microbiome and set the stage for the development of asthma.