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Another Reason to Breastfeed

March 5, 2009

Babies who aren’t breastfed are twice as likely to die of SIDS, study says

A study published this month in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that breastfeeding protects infants from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants in developed countries, and yet the causes are not fully understood. Past studies have linked breastfeeding with SIDS prevention, and this research shows that infants who are formula fed are twice as likely to die of SIDS than breastfed infants. Any amount of breastfeeding was found to have a protective effect. The researchers recommend that all SIDS-prevention campaigns carry a message promoting breastfeeding. The study was a case-control design and included 333 cases of SIDS and 998 age-matched controls in Germany, from 1998 to 2001.

While previous research has documented the relationship between breastfeeding and low SIDS rates, there was speculation that the this relationship may not be causal. The argument is made that parents who are more likely to breastfeed are also more likely to be of high socioeconomic status, and therefore statistically less likely to engage in behaviour which puts infants at risk for SIDS, such as smoking or dangerous co-sleeping habits. In this study researchers adjusted the data to control for the effect of socioeconomic status and suggested a mechanism which could explain a causal relationship between breastfeeding and SIDS-prevention. Most infants who die of SIDS are between two and four months old. At this age, maternal acquired immunoglobulin G is low and the infant has not yet begun to produce large amounts of its own immunoglobulin. Breastmilk contains immunoglobulin and cytokines, which may help stave off infections which are believed to contribute to SIDS. It has also been shown that breastfed infants are more easily aroused than formula-fed babies, another mechanism which could help prevent SIDS.

After the age of four months, infants are at a lower risk for SIDS and the older they get, the more their risk declines. Because the risk is so low by six months of age, researchers recommend that all babies be breastfed until six months of age.

Current recommendations from the Canadian Paediatric Society do not take into account the impact that breastfeeding has on SIDS rates, nor do those of the American Academy of Pediatrics or the UK Department of Health. Because breastfeeding rates are low in economically deprived sectors of society, the researchers recommend “special programs” which encourage mothers with low socioeconomic status to breastfeed.

For the full study see: http://pediatrics. aappublications. org/cgi/content/ full/123/ 3/e406

1 Vennemann MM, Bajanowski T, Jorch G, Mitchell EA, Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Pediatrics Vol. 123, No. 3, March 2009, pp e406-e410.

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