A new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that breastfeeding a baby for at least two months can halve the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Previous studies had shown that breastfeeding is protective against SIDS, with exclusive breastfeeding giving more protection, but the duration of breastfeeding needed was unknown.
This study set out to look at the association between breastfeeding duration and SIDS. It examined eight case-control studies conducted around the world, involving a total of 2,267 SIDS cases and 6,837 control infants where death did not occur. It took into account breastfeeding variables, demographic factors and other variables which might affect results. However, as the variables in each of the eight studies differed slightly, they could not all be included in the analysis.
Breastfeeding did not have to be exclusive
When the study looked at the data in its simplest form, with only one random variable, it found breastfeeding had a protective effect against SIDS even for small amounts of time, but when all the variables were taken into account analysis showed the effect began at two months and increased over time.
The authors concluded that any breastfeeding over two months was protective, and the longer a baby was breastfed the better the protection. Surprisingly, the study found that breastfeeding did not have to be exclusive to offer protection; it was the duration which made the difference.
In fact, breastfeeding for at least two months was associated with half the risk of SIDS.
Significant implications for infant mortality
SIDS is a major cause of early infant mortality and this study adds to the knowledge on the significance of breastfeeding. Knowing that breastfeeding does not have to be exclusive to offer protection may make a difference to mothers who are not exclusively breastfeeding. In the study the authors say: “Even if mothers are unable to exclusively breastfeed, they can feel reassured that any breastfeeding provides protection against SIDS to their infants.” (1)
While it is not known exactly why breastfeeding protects against SIDS, Dr. James J. McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame and a member of La Leche League International’s Health Advisory Council says that it is known that babies that die of SIDS likely had some kind of arousal deficiency.
Infants who spend more time in deeper sleep do not arouse so easily in order to prevent a life-threatening sleep apnoea (a temporary inability to breathe). Dr. McKenna states that when a baby is sleeping next to his mother and waking to breastfeed, it increases his oxygenation and may offer defense against a range of potential physiological challenges. (2)
Therefore, while the study could not conclusively show the significance of breastfeeding with regard to SIDS in the first two months, being close to mother and nursing frequently may still be offering protection.
The early days of breastfeeding are also of significance in many other ways, protecting a baby’s intestines, promoting healthy growth for body and brain, and boosting the immune system. (3)
Global Breastfeeding Rates
This study shows the significance of breastfeeding around the world and the need to support it. The World Health Organization has set the goal of having half of infants worldwide being exclusively breastfed for at least six months by 2025. (4)
Written by Anna Burbidge on behalf of LLLGB, October 2017
You can read more about Breastfeeding and SIDS in this article:
(1) Thompson, JMD et al. “Duration of Breastfeeding and Risk of SIDS: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis” Pediatrics, October 2017. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-1324
(2) James J. McKenna. “Night waking among breastfeeding mothers and infants. Conflict, congruence or both?”, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, Volume 2014, Issue 1, 1 January 2014, Pages 40–47. https://doi.org/10.1093/emph/eou006
(3) La Leche League International. “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, 8th edition, 2010, pages 6-7.
(4) World Health Organization and UNICEF. “Global Nutrition Targets 2025: Breastfeeding policy brief.” 2014. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/globaltargets2025_policybrief_breastfeeding/en/