The benefits of breast-feeding seem limitless. It’s been linked to improved brain development and better immunity in babies; less postpartum depression and lower cancer risk in mothers; and better mother-infant bonding. Now a new review of recent research offers another reason for new mothers to nurse: protection against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
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The review, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that infants who were ever breast-fed were about 60% less likely to die from SIDS than infants who received no breast milk. The protective effect increased the longer and more exclusively babies were breast-fed.
Those who were still being breast-fed at two months or older were 62% less likely to die from SIDS than formula-fed infants. Infants who received exclusively breast milk had a 73% lower risk of SIDS than babies who were not breast-fed at all.
“Breast-feeding to any extent and of any duration is protective against SIDS,” author Dr. Fern Hauck of the department of family medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.
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For their review, the researchers analyzed 18 previously published studies on SIDS and breast-feeding. Because the studies were observational, the data do not prove that breast-feeding directly prevents SIDS. But as WebMD reported, there are some plausible biological explanations for the findings:
For example, breast-fed infants may be more easily aroused from sleep than formula-fed infants at 2-3 months of age, which is within the 2-4 months peak age of SIDS cases.
In addition, breast-feeding delivers antibodies known as immunoglobulins that may help protect infants from infection during the period they are most at risk for SIDS.
The study’s authors recommend that breast-feeding be included in other SIDS-prevention advice given to expectant moms.