Moms who breastfeed for just two months reduce their baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome by nearly half, according to a new study.
The study, published in Pediatrics, looked at eight international studies with breastfeeding data examining more than 2,200 SIDs cases and over 6,800 cases of infants who survived. The case control study matched data between living and deceased infants to find differences.
Researchers found any breastfeeding for two to four months reduced risk by 40%; any breastfeeding for four to six months reduced risk by 60%; and longer than six months reduced risk by 64%. Breastfeeding for less than two months didn't offer protection, researchers found. This is the first study determining a length of time a mother should breastfeed for SIDs protection.
It also suggests any amount of breastfeeding — exclusive or not — for at least two months can reduce risk. This is encouraging news for moms who supplement with formula.
"We didn’t see any differences in the protection in the association with partial breastfeeding versus exclusive breastfeeding," said researcher Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "If a mother is just breastfeeding partially, meaning just using some formula, she is still going to provide that baby with the same amount of protection."
Past studies have linked breastfeeding to a reduced risk of SIDs, which claimed the lives of about 3,700 infants in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC categorizes SIDS as unexplained death or accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed. Sleep environments, such as a crib without pillows and blankets, can also reduce SIDs risk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the baby’s first six months for a variety of health reasons, including reduced SIDs risk.
No one knows exactly why breastfeeding protects babies from SIDs. Some theories suggest it's the milk's abilities to ward off viruses. But, that's an area of research that could use more attention Hauck said.
Among the studies included, the United States had the lowest breastfeeding rate and New Zealand had the highest.
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