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Breast Milk Reduces Infections in Babies
Date:6/21/2010

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To assess the level of protection that breast-feeding might provide, the researchers mailed questionnaires to Dutch women whose infants were aged 6 to 12 months. The women were already participating in a long-term study designed to follow women and their offspring from early pregnancy through young adulthood.

Researchers received complete information about breast-feeding and infectious diseases contracted by the infants from almost 4,200 of the women, according to the study.

Twenty-nine percent of the infants were breast-fed for less than four months, while 25 percent were breast-fed from four to six months. Thirty-four percent breast-fed for six months or longer, and 12 percent didn't breast-feed at all. Only 1.4 percent of the babies who were breast-fed for six months were breast-fed exclusively during that time.

The researchers found that when infants were breast-fed exclusively for four months and then at least partially thereafter, the risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses was significantly reduced. Compared to babies who were never breast-fed, the risk of lower respiratory infections dropped by 50 percent, the risk of upper respiratory infections were reduced 35 percent and the risk of gastrointestinal illnesses dropped by 59 percent, according to the study.

Moll said that breast-feeding exclusively until 6 months appeared to provide even more benefit, but the number of babies who were breast-fed exclusively for that length of time was too low to reach statistical significance.

She said it wasn't clear from this study exactly why the breast-fed babies were better able to fend off infection, but suspects that some of the components of breast milk provide an immune system boost. For example, one component of breast milk is Iga (immune globulin A), a substance that is normally secreted at the lining of the respiratory tract and may have antimicrobial properties, according to Moll.

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