We already know that breastfeeding helps protect infants against a number of respiratory infections. But what about older babies? Can breastfeeding provide protection against respiratory infections beyond infancy? What about specific respiratory illnesses? Can breastfeeding offer extended protections to help prevent bronchiolitis in toddlers? A new study says yes, it can, so long as the mother breastfeeds for at least 6 months.
A research paper published by ERJ Open Research found that breastfeeding for at least six months may provide protection against respiratory tract infections for the first 2 years of a child’s life in developed countries.
Researchers conducted standard questionnaire surveys containing data about breastfeeding duration and respiratory symptoms of over 4,000 children. Their goal was to quantify the ability of breastfeeding to protect against respiratory tract infections during the first 2 years of a child’s life.
They used both unadjusted and adjusted logical regression to determine how breastfeeding affected different kinds of respiratory tract infections.
Adjusted models accounted for additional factors such as sex, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, environmental factors, and perinatal factors, as well as any history of asthma, hay fever, or bronchitis among the parents.
The researchers analyzed data of 4,040 children: 1,659 of whom had never been breastfed before, 1,639 of them were breastfed for less than 6 months, and 742 were breastfed for at least 6 months or more.
Data about respiratory symptoms among those children suggested that breastfeeding protects against respiratory illnesses like frequent colds, the flu, and croup during the first 2 years of life.
The children who were breastfed for at least 6 months or more demonstrated the greatest protection. These children displayed extended protection against bronchiolitis. Further analysis of specific breastfeeding information on 2,286 children confirmed evidence of a protective effect from bronchiolitis.
Bronchiolitis is the inflammation and swelling of the bronchioles, which are the passageways that carry oxygen to the air sacs in the lungs and help stabilize the respiratory system. It is usually instigated by a viral infection–in most cases, that infection is respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV.